Defining Moments

Sometimes the most normal of days turn out to be ones that you’ll never forget.

When I started writing this post, it was from an organizational perspective, not a personal one. But the further I got, the more I realized that this story has become a defining moment for my professional life, and it made more sense for me to share it from my point of view.

I’ve been working with 3DE students at Banneker High School since we began in 2014. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the students – what motivates them, what makes them tick and the ever-changing status of what’s ‘cool’.

At 3DE schools, we’re creating environments where students are a part of something bigger than themselves. Not only do they feel supported by their peers and teachers, but they begin to build the skills and confidence to know that their dreams are actually within reach.

It all begins with engagement. Creating an engaging learning environment where students flourish goes beyond just providing hands-on experiences; it means developing a culture in which students are academically, emotionally and socially supported, and it goes far beyond their scores on the latest assignment. It means working to ensure that their education covers every dimension of their lives.

This defining moment came to light during a national photoshoot with Arby’s. I was excited that 3DE, JA and myself, were going to be a part of something and a brand as iconic and salient as Arby’s. Of course, it’s not about our organizations or us. It’s about the power of our mission to transform education and lives, and in this instance that story would unfold through Courteciya, a rising senior at Banneker High School whose smile and determination are contagious.

I was excited to experience this alongside Courteciya. To see her excitement as she got to have her makeup and wardrobe done, and pose for the camera, but I didn’t expect the day to become a defining moment in her personal growth, and my own professional life.

It was so much more than a photo shoot for her. It was a day spent amongst professionals –artists, stylists, photographers, national marketing firm consultants. It was fast, orchestrated, busy. To any non-marketing or advertising buff, it was foreign and even intimidating.

When you first meet Courteciya she is a little soft spoken and reserved, but as she got comfortable she put herself out there. She started asking questions – the very first a thoughtful one about the end goal of the shoot and the emotion they were hoping to capture. From there a dialog opened up and suddenly a 16-year-old was an equal in the space among professionals.

The conversation continued - What kind of shot are you looking for? What role does my outfit play in how the photo comes across? How does this all get translated to something that will be in every single Arby’s store?

She owned it and recognized that she was part of something bigger. Her actions reflected that she understood the business of the day and she delivered on meeting every goal and objective – positioning herself to be an integral piece in achieving the now collective end goal.


It was exposure to a world that Courteciya had never seen, in a setting that she likely would’ve never experienced without 3DE. For the day, she wasn’t just a student – she was a model. A model in front of the camera, but more importantly for others.

When I started reflecting back on the day I realized that her engagement and maturity were no accident – she had been unknowingly preparing for this moment for the three years prior. Every site visit that tested her nerves before presenting to a panel of professionals, every case challenge that she was forced to work with people outside of her comfort zone, every lesson that challenged her to look beyond the face value and to analyze a situation, to ask the right questions to get to the desired point. All of these moments, combined with the overall culture of persistence and community that had formed at 3DE at Banneker High School, had made her ready.

By the end of the day, Courteciya wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I watched her transition from a nervous teen to joking and conversing with professionals she’d shared the day with. Everyone was impressed – to watch a high school student carry herself with such poise, and to be engaged in something that was larger than herself – how could you not be inspired?

It’s been months since that day and Courteciya is still in regular contact with the adults she met that day. Is she going to become a creative director, marketing manager or national photographer? Probably not -- she wants to be a vet.  What I do know though, is that she can hold her own in unfamiliar situations and thinks beyond the world she knew when she entered 3DE at Banneker High School just four years ago.

These are the kinds of moments that begin to define a student’s trajectory.

What was just another day at work for a handful of professionals ended up being a defining moment for a student, and one of the first times I internalized the full impact and opportunity that 3DE represents for students. That’s the difference between a conventional high school experience and 3DE. That kind of impact is what we mean by education for every dimension of life.

Sarah Lippert is on the Marketing Team at JA of Georgia.

JA Discovery Centers hit five-year milestone

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.

JA BizTown (2).jpg
JA CFAF Discovery Center.jpg

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.

Unveiling of JA BizTown presented by WestRock Foundation

Unveiling of JA BizTown presented by WestRock Foundation

The Mike & Lynn Cottrell JA Discovery Center at North Georgia - Photo Credit:  Rank Studios

The Mike & Lynn Cottrell JA Discovery Center at North Georgia - Photo Credit: Rank Studios

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.

Sage Foundation nominates Jack Harris as a charity pioneer

In an effort to showcase leaders across the globe that work each day to make the world a better place, Sage Foundation has created Charity Pioneers. The chosen pioneers have been selected for the causes they promote, including entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion, education, and well-being.

JA of Georgia's President and CEO Jack Harris has been nominated to the Charity Pioneer’s list for his outstanding leadership in transforming education. 

“I’m honored to have been chosen as one of Sage Foundation’s Charity Pioneers,” said Jack Harris, President and CEO, JA of Georgia. “The mission of the Sage Foundation, to help more people reach their true potential, aligns closely with the work we’re doing at JA of Georgia, and makes their investment and insight so valuable to our organization.”

Jack Harris, President and CEO, JA of Georgia

Nominations for Charity Pioneers are open online until September 21st, 2018. Nominees have the chance to be featured on the list of Charity Pioneers and also win $5,000 of Enterprise Fund funding in the upcoming prize draw.

To find out more, and to see other nominee's inspiring stories visit Sage.