Teaching teens comprehensively about money

Published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on 9/23/15

Jack Harris, President & CEO, JA of Georgia

Are we doing everything we can as a community to ensure today’s students are prepared for the demands of tomorrow’s economy? This question is frequently deliberated by parents, educators, business leaders, and community activists.

With the rapid shifts in technology and connectivity, many of our children will be applying for jobs that do not exist today. Beyond this, only 11 percent of business leaders strongly believe that recent graduates have the skills to meet their current needs.

These intensified demands will not be solely linked to the workplace. The shifts will continue to heighten the complexity of the economic environment and require greater understanding to successfully navigate financial intricacies.

Atlanta currently ranks highest in the nation for income inequality. Even more astounding is that a person born into poverty in Atlanta has less than a 5 percent chance of upward mobility. Clearly, we cannot continue on this trajectory. Our children deserve more than a 5 percent chance to achieve the American Dream.

If a child never has the opportunity to experience a prosperous future, how do we expect them to deem it a possibility? If a student does not understand the relevance of standard curriculum, how do we expect them to stay engaged?

We have to provide meaningful opportunities that engage students in education and equip them to become financially independent, building a better future for themselves and the community.

Across various sectors, groups have taken steps to address these issues, and progress has been made. Yet, overall awareness among the public continues to lack. Envision the possibilities if everybody leaned in.

Imagine a generation where young people, no matter their background, know how to budget, save, and invest; a generation of tenacious individuals armed with the confidence, knowledge and capabilities to take control of their financial futures, their careers, and achieve their dreams.

To achieve this there is no single bullet. Transformational shifts cannot rest solely on the efforts of a school, school district, business or industry. To provide sustainable solutions that reverberate throughout metro Atlanta this must be a collaborative effort among the entire community.

Late August the second Junior Achievement Discovery Center was launched in metro Atlanta. These centers are collective efforts from five school districts, including Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Fulton County Schools, Gwinnett County Public Schools and Marietta City Schools, more than 70 partners, such as Assurant, AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Cisco, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, and SunTrust, and 11,000 volunteers. Through these efforts, more than 60 percent of metro Atlanta middle school students are provided opportunities to develop skills for financial and professional success in an unmatched learning environment that is highly relevant, experiential, and authentic.

When students understand how academic lessons apply to the real world, they are more motivated in the classroom and ultimately achieve higher academic success. Since 2013, 65,000 students have experienced the JA Discovery Center, and the results show these programs produce mindful shifts. Ninety percent of students state that they now connect the relevance of education to future opportunities. Months following the simulations nine out of 10 teachers observe a sustained higher level of engagement and effort by their students.

The JA Discovery Centers have become a platform to re-imagine the high school experience. JA and Fulton County Schools recently partnered to launch the Junior Achievement Magnet Business Academy at Banneker High School. This program takes key aspects from the centers and applies them into the daily learning experience. The first class of students have accepted the challenge and are already excelling in their interdisciplinary studies.

True learning comes from doing, and when given the right tools there are no bounds to the potential of our youth. There is no greater cause for our community than the future of our children. I invite you to join JA, school systems and our partners, and become part of the movement to redefine a generation and place all students on a path to success.