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


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.

Atlanta businesses help prepare students with real-world skills and confidence through an innovative approach to high school

By: Steve Voorhees, CEO, WestRock. Originally published in Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Our world is faster, more connected and more complex than it’s ever been. Today’s students are part of the first digitally native generation and are poised to enter the most technology dependent economies to date. Businesses will rely on this generation to help them seamlessly transition through new technologies and needs – some of which have yet to be imagined. 

So, why are companies continually concerned about an ever-growing skills gap in the upcoming work force?

Because while we focus so much on technological advancements and its impacts, we begin to overlook the human element. The soft skills – effective communication, a solution-oriented mindset, collaboration – that are just as important than the technical ones. These are competencies businesses need individuals to obtain before they enter the workforce.

With 90 percent of American children in the public education system, it seems that’s exactly where the groundwork should begin. How can we support our schools to effectively provide students with the resources and opportunities to develop these skills so they are primed to excel in careers of today and tomorrow?

Across our country businesses are independently meeting to determine ways they can meaningfully engage in education. And, what I have discovered through WestRock’s most recent involvement in this space, is that schools and school systems are having the same conversations.

As CEO of a Fortune 500 company with strong ties to Atlanta, as well as my longtime commitment to help students  succeed in a global economy, I am confident that a solution is on the horizon and that it’s is being incubated right here in Atlanta.

Developed as joint ventures with school systems, and strategic partnerships with the business community, JA Academy  has the potential to systematically transform high school education. This approach integrates real-world business connectivity into the everyday learning experience to create a highly engaging and relevant learning environment.

Transformation has already begun within various schools. Since 2015, the inaugural JA Academy class of students has demonstrated a dramatic improvement in engagement and, as a result, elevated academic outcomes.

The students at JA Academy are building higher-order transferable skills like communication, collaboration and creativity. The unique JA Academy approach provides students opportunities to discover their strengths and passions, while exploring future possibilities. This was evident when more than 100 freshmen from JA Academy at Norcross High School visited WestRock to present their prospective solutions around communication, culture and employee engagement.

The innovative approach being practiced at the JA Academy can transform our schools and empower students to graduate as the most knowledgeable, skilled and confident generation to enter the workforce.

The first JA Academy class will graduate from Banneker High School in 2019. They will be the first cohort of students with four years of real-world experiences, business backgrounds and an unstoppable drive for success that will have prepared them to take on all the challenges of today’s economy.

The second JA Academy at Norcross High School will graduate its first class in 2020, and the most recent location, JA Academy at Douglass High School will graduate in 2021. Implementation plans to expand the footprint to provide many more graduates from JA Academies will follow closely behind.

We all know that Atlanta is unique – our community is marked by our ability to cross sectors, come together and unite efforts for the common good. And because of what’s taking place right now at the JA Academy, I believe Atlanta will soon have another title to be proud of: The hub for innovation in education. 

Thankful: conscious of benefit received; expressive of thanks

We are so thankful for all of our partners, volunteers, teachers and students. During this season when gratefulness is top of mind, we’d like to take a moment to spotlight one of these segments in particular: teachers.

It goes without saying that we couldn’t impact as many students as deeply as we do without teachers. For students visiting the JA Discovery Centers, teachers bring the classroom curriculum to life to prepare the students. At JA Academies, teachers evolve from someone who delivers a history lesson, to some students’ role models, mentors and biggest cheerleaders.

At the 2017 JA Atlanta Business Hall of Fame we had the pleasure of hearing from the lead teacher at Banneker High School, our inaugural JA Academy. Ms. LaToya Morgan embodies what it means to be passionate about your work. Every student of hers knows without question that she is rooting for their success, even in moments of tough love. It was truly an honor hear to her get the opportunity to boast about her students and all they’ve accomplished in such a short time. Check out a snippet of her speech below:

“My students attend a Title 1 public high school. Every single one of them live at or below the poverty line. According to every piece of research, they are the pinnacle of disengagement in education. Yet, our kids are showing up to school, leaning into their education, lifting each other up and learning at accelerated rates.

The students leaped nearly three grade levels in reading and math, and outperform their peers on all 9th grade state test, and get this they surpassed students just like them from schools throughout Fulton County.  

 To say JA Academy is transforming students is an understatement.

Bottom line, these kids prove poverty can no longer be a blanket excuse for poor performance in our schools.

When we as a community step up to bring innovation to education, every child has the potential to excel farther than the limitations dictated to them by society.

Our students have been exposed to possibilities many of them could never have imagined. Because of this they have a greater respect for their education- and they are working tirelessly to fuel the futures for themselves and their communities. 

JA Academy does not just make school different it elevates every individual involved.

My students look at the world and the role they can play differently. They’re not just dreamers. They know how to work hard, set goals and put forth the effort to reach the finish line.

They are defying every stereotype and invisible barrier that has been placed on them their entire lives.  Today, they are leaders in our schools, tomorrow they will be leaders of our communities. They are the ones breaking the cycle and rewriting the narrative about today’s generation.  They are the ones proving to their little brothers and sisters that there is more than one option for their futures.

I work hard because my students are my life’s work, but they are the real heroes. They are resilient, determined, driven and inspire me to be a better person and teacher every day. Because of them I know the work we are doing today will impact generations to come.”

Teachers like Ms. Morgan make our work at JA a no brainer. If we can provide passionate and driven teachers like her the space and resources they need to make learning different, who says we can’t transform the entire high school education experience?