Two hundred seventy-two thousand. That’s the number of Georgia students that the JA Discovery Centers have served in their first five years.
In 2013, opening a JA BizTown and JA Finance Park was not a completely new idea – there were more than a dozen across the country. But building a truly authentic experience, one that would grow, flourish and evolve in lockstep with our city, was. Especially one that was so focused on reflecting the real world; to offer students something immersive, authentic and experiential that had potential to energize them around their academics and their futures.
The vision for this began with the JA of Georgia Board, and a catalytic investment from the Chick-fil-A Foundation that allowed the conversation with other local partners to begin. That vision and dedication spearheaded the compelling momentum that continues to propel the JA of Georgia mission five years later.
From the opening of the JA Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center, it became evident that JA BizTown and JA Finance Park were providing far more than a supplementary opportunity for students. The time spent preparing for their experience during class, coupled with the 360-degree, hands-on learning that happens within space has led to notable and lasting outcomes.
As the results and reactions began rolling in, so did the demand to extend the opportunity to more students. In 2015, we launched the JA Discovery Center at Gwinnett, and in 2018 added our first hybrid facility, extending our impact into North Georgia through the Mike & Lynn Cottrell JA Discovery Center at North Georgia.
The success of these innovative programs hinges on the collaboration between the business and education communities.
Businesses who activate within our spaces bring an authenticity that breaks through the noise for students. While they’re working and budgeting throughout the simulations, they are making connections to their day-to-day life. 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.
Partnerships with the education community are integral to the success of the programs. By working together with school system leaders, we are able to ensure consistency from the delivery of the in-class curriculum to the experience on-site. After seeing connections and ah-ha moments during the simulations, teachers often state that they are motivated to incorporate more real-world connectivity and authenticity in their own teaching. They are driven to engage their students in day-to-day learning and help them understand how and why their lessons matter in life beyond the classroom walls.
The most phenomenal part of hitting this five-year milestone is that the impact has only just begun.
The facilities, programs, staff, partners, and volunteers haven’t become stagnant over the course of these foundational years. Instead, there’s been more innovation and growth across regions and relationships that are continuing to drive the impact that’s possible.
Over the past year there have been significant investments from legacy partners, as well as new companies, that have substantiated the results and potential of JA Discovery Centers.
Five years, 272,000 students and 100% commitment from the business community to inspiring and preparing our students. As our communities and the broader economic landscape have evolved, so have the JA Discovery Centers. An exciting example of that evolution: WestRock Foundation recently took on the title of presenting sponsor of JA BizTown, and Mercedes-Benz USA and The Home Depot became storefront partners.
These monumental new commitments, combined with long-standing partnerships, are testaments to the power that learning can have when it is hands-on, authentically connected to the real world, and exposing students to new ideas. It’s evidence that these strategic partnerships continue to create value for our students, and more importantly that we all play an integral part in it.
The impact of the JA Discovery Centers is only beginning, and we can’t wait to see where the next five years takes us.