Middle School Students

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.

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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.

Six local school systems partner to bring relevant, authentic and experiential learning to middle school students

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Mike and Lynn Cottrell JA Discovery Center at North Georgia to Impact 15,000 Local Students

Atlanta, GA – The Mike and Lynn Cottrell JA Discovery Center at North Georgia is well underway and will begin serving students in Fall 2018.

It will be the third JA Discovery Center in Georgia, and will serve middle school students in the northern region of the state. The facility will be located on the new high school campus of the Alliance Academy for Innovation of Cumming – Forsyth, also opening in Fall 2018. The inclusion of the facility on this innovative campus will provide students continued exposure to their future possibilities.

“We are thrilled to be able to expand the impact of this relevant, authentic and experiential learning to more students across the state,” said Jack Harris, President and CEO, Junior Achievement of Georgia. “This facility creates an opportunity for us to enhance existing partnerships, and ignite new ones in a community that is engaged in deepening their students’ education experience,” said Harris.

The first hybrid facility in the state will combine both JA BizTown and JA Finance Park, experiential simulations that have impacted more than 160,000 middle school students in the last three years.

“Our students will have a chance to explore career opportunities that perhaps they have never considered before, and to learn entrepreneurial skills that will be very beneficial as they consider their career pathways and post-secondary areas of interest,” said Dr. Jeff Bearden, Superintendent, Forsyth County Schools. “In my 30 years in public education, I have never experienced a program and a curriculum that addresses financial literacy better than the JA Discovery Center concept.  We are so fortunate to afford our students this opportunity,” said Bearden.

Middle school students from Calhoun City Schools, Dawson County Schools, Forsyth County Schools, Gainesville City Schools, Hall County Schools and Lumpkin County Schools will all participate in in-class curriculum in preparation for their immersive experiences in JA BizTown and JA Finance Park.

JA BizTown creates an unmatched experience where students are able to interact within a simulated economy and take on the challenge of fueling a business. Here, students not only discover the intricacies of being a professional and member of the community, but also realize the abundance of opportunities available within their city.

JA Finance Park provides students the rare opportunity to experience their personal financial futures first-hand. Students participate in an immersive simulation that enables them to develop skills to successfully navigate today’s complex economic environment and discover how decisions today can impact tomorrow.

Will Schofield, Superintendent, Hall County Schools, shared similar excitement for the impact this facility will have on his students, and expressed how “fortunate the district is to have an opportunity like this for our middle school students.” 

The launch of this engaging facility would not be possible without the support of Mike and Lynn Cottrell, as well as partnerships with participating school systems, and investment from the following partners who will have storefronts in the new facility: ADP, Andean Chevrolet, Associated Credit Union, City of Cumming, Delta Air Lines, Elavon, Engineered Floors, Georgia Power, Georgia State University, Georgia United Credit Union, MarketSource, North Georgia Community Foundation, Northside Hospital, Publix Super Markets Charities, RaceTrac, United Way of Hall County, United Way of Forsyth County and Zaxby’s.

Five Years of Discovery

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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.

COMMUNITY PARTNERS
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.

EDUCATORS
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
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.

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