A third-grader chooses debit or credit to fill up her minivan, while another budgets a taco and pineapple dinner. Second-graders run a doughnut business. Fifth-graders have their own city in motion.
Fort Mill Elementary School transformed Tuesday for its first JA in a Day. The school is the first in Fort Mill to take on an entire Junior Achievement curriculum in a single day, part of an increasing focus on financial literacy.
“It’s hands on,” said Principal Jeanette Black. “It’s real life. You can’t start too early teaching children.”
Junior Achievement normally offers classes during several weeks, with volunteers teaching everything from banking terms to small business operation. Several schools send fifth-graders to JA Biztown in Charlotte, where students elect civic and corporate leaders to manage a city.
JA in a Day compacts those same lessons. Parents in financial or related fields joined Junior Achievement volunteers. Kindergartners had lessons through stories. First-graders separated needs and wants. Second-graders collected and paid taxes, while third-graders mastered municipal zoning and Paypal accounts.
The fifth-graders still went to Charlotte.
“Every grade level has a different focus,” Black said. “We’re getting them thinking about so many different careers, so much earlier than before.”
Ann Elliott, Junior Achievement of the Catawba Region executive director, said the challenges her group faced in preparing more than 30 parents and volunteers almost could serve as a lesson itself.
“It’s all about finance, and just bridging that gap between what the community does and what students do in the classroom,” she said. “It helps reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom.”
With older students, Junior Achievement focuses on the types of traits employers will expect.
“Students need to understand that they need to work as a team, they have to come to work prepared,” Elliott said.
Fifth-grader Bella Brown served as Biztown mayor. She learned politics, and how to get a loan.
“I thought the best experience at Biztown was probably saying speeches and seeing everyone in front of me,” Brown said.
Heading a municipality wasn’t all fun for Brown.
“The hardest part was probably the paperwork and organizing everything,” she said.
But the experience was enjoyable enough.
“I would want to do it again because I felt like I had control,” Brown said. “I don’t know, I felt like I was important, and that was a nice feeling.”
The school applied for grants related to increasing financial literacy. The school may open a school bank, giving students a basic understanding of savings. Black hopes the success of JA in a Day will lead to an even better event next year, with more parents from more fields participating.
“Once the word is out we’ll start recruiting earlier,” she said.
Junior Achievement began in the Catawba region with 60 high school students in 1997. Now more than 5,500 students participate in Chester, Lancaster and York counties, from elementary to high school.
John Marks • 803-547-2353