The first ever JA Discovery Center in Georgia opened in 2013. As the fifth anniversary nears and the opening of the third location is on the horizon, the long-term impact on student engagement and aspirations is evident. The success of these immersive facilities lies at the convergence of driven business and community partners, passionate education leaders, engaged volunteers and a model built around expertise in experiential learning. The uniquely collaborative design of JA Discovery Centers provide a student experience that’s more relevant, authentic and experiential than ever before.
With partners across virtually all sectors and industries, students are exposed to things they may have never known existed. From specific positions at companies, to entire industries, students get a hands-on look at the myriad of possibilities that exist in their own communities and across the globe.
Along with the real-world exposure comes the authentic brand experiences and application of learning through brands they recognize within JA BizTown and JA Finance Park. The next time they are at Chick-fil-A, they’ll remember that there’s an entire corporate organization behind every chicken sandwich served, or that texting their friends on their AT&T phone doesn’t come for free, and that budgeting is necessary to maintain that luxury. These connections reinforce the lessons learned and help students retain the knowledge as they return to the classroom.
Partnerships with the education community are at the very foundation of the impact of the JA BizTown and JA Finance Park experience. By working hand-in-hand with school system leaders, we are able to ensure consistency from the delivery of the in-class curriculum to the experience on-site. It allows for a constant cycle of feedback from educators on how we can make the experience better suited to their students, and ensures prolonged impact in the way students think about education and prepare for their futures.
Another encouraging trend beyond the student outcomes is the effect that the experience has on educators. After seeing the connections and ah-ha moments in their students, teachers often state that they are motivated to incorporate more real-world connectivity and authenticity into their own teaching. They are driven to engage their students in day-to-day learning, and help them to understand how and why their lessons matter in life beyond
the classroom walls.
Volunteers who spend a day, and often numerous days throughout the year, with students at a JA Discovery Center are more than your average ‘feel-good’ volunteer. They coach groups of students through the simulations, but they don’t stop at just helping them check off their to-do lists. They give advice, help foster innovative thinking, and emphasize the importance of communication, collaboration and goal setting.
Throughout all of that, they share their own experiences. Things that worked for them, things that didn’t. Lessons they learned through their successes as well as failures, and wisdom they’ve received that has stood the test of time. It’s this personal connection that helps bring the experience to life for the students. They have the opportunity to hear from an adult other than a parent or teacher, often times about careers and situations they may have never
considered before now.
As we prepare for the opening of the third JA Discovery Center, and more in coming years, we plan to stay intently focused on what continually drives us: to inspire and empower students with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to thrive; to build better futures for themselves and their community.