JA: It’s Not Just About Building Birdhouses

Junior Achievement has changed over the years, but the mission is as vital today as it was in 1919.

A report from the Mass. Business Alliance for Education, released in October 2008, noted, “students in the 21st century must master skills that include: global awareness; financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy … creativity and innovation; critical thinking and problem-solving; communication; and collaboration skills.” JA provides skills to our young people through the financial and volunteer support of local businesses.

Nearly one in every four children in Springfield Public Schools is involved in JA this year, but there are more children who need the JA experience, and you can help by investing in JA. It’s good business.

In 1919, JA’s founders wanted to teach children between the ages 8 and 12 about this country’s economic way of life and give them the skills to succeed in an economy that was changing from an agrarian base to a manufacturing base.

The students were organized into clubs that had adult leaders and operated like a business. With the adults overseeing the program, the students developed an enterprise, made articles for sale, and learned how to operate their own company. The clubs were supported financially by local businesses. In the mid-1920s, the Junior Achievement Training Institute was built on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition, where Achievement Hall still stands today.

For nearly eight decades, JA remained an after-school program, where groups of high-school students, mentored by adult volunteers, formed a company, sold stock, made a product, and sold it with the goal of returning a profit to the shareholders. For more than 400,000 people in Western Mass., JA brings back fond memories of making birdhouses, aprons, wire hangers, hair products, or electrical gadgets.

Today, 90 years later, JA is part of a worldwide organization where more than 3 million volunteers serve 9.2 million students in 137 JA areas in the U.S. and in 97 other countries. Despite the tremendous growth, JA remains true to its mission “to prepare and inspire young people to succeed in a global economy.” However, while our mission is the same, our approach to providing economic and entrepreneurial education has changed.

Junior Achievement offers a wide variety of programs for students in grades K-12 that focus on business, citizenship, economics, entrepreneurship, ethics/character, financial literacy, and career exploration. The three pillars of JA’s foundation continue to be financial literacy, workforce readiness, and entrepreneurship.

Junior Achievement has continued to grow over the years because it delivers relevant programs and, like business, adapts to the needs of the community.

Today, JA programs are still delivered by local volunteers. The programs are found in schools, after-school programs, community youth organizations, and summer programs. JA’s programs can take place in one-day or in a series of weekly classroom visits. The program and the delivery method depend on the needs of the school or organization. The age-appropriate, interactive JA activities are correlated to the state frameworks in mathematics, language arts, reading, social studies, economics, and civics, as well as to the Mass. Comprehensive Assessment System.

Today, a Junior Achiever might be a first-grader who learned the difference between a need and a want; a fourth-grader who knows about human, natural, and capital resources; or a middle-grader who knows about budgeting, how to use credit wisely, and the importance of insurance. A Junior Achiever can also be a high-school student who has completed JA Success Skills and four hours of JA volunteer training and can be found teaching JA to students in grades K-3, learning first-hand the importance of teamwork, time management, communication skills, and service. –

Jennifer Connelly is president of Junior Achievement of Western Mass.; (413) 747-7670.

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