Youth centered program introduces work experience
By Maricha Harris
Wisconsin’s economy may be struggling, but business is booming at Junior Achievement (JA) Biz Town. Recently, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee partnered with Junior Achievement-Wisconsin to send more than 650 elementary and high school students on a Learning Journey over the course of three weeks.
Using imagination to inspire and build skills, JA Biz Town, located at Kohl’s Education Center’s JA Finance Park, allows children ages 8-11 to work realistic jobs for a day within a unique facility. Prior to coming to JA Biz Town, students spent four to five hours in the classroom with Club staff doing activities— such as preparing check books and completing loan applications and promissory notes—to prepare for the workday.
“The whole purpose of the program is we want them to spend time in the classroom practicing the skills that they would need to apply here, so when they come here they’re able to apply those skills and see what it’s like to do it in the real world,” said Melisse` Wen, Senior Program Manager, JA Capstone.
While at JA Biz Town, youth occupy a business square that was built to look and feel like a real business. Many of the shops were sponsored and branded by local businesses like U.S. Bank, Johnson Controls and Kohl’s. “We like to have that local flavor and our local community to be engaged because we want to keep the students here; we want to educate the students here; we want them to go to school here; and then we want them to be working in our own community as well,” said Wen.
Local flare and realistic job simulations make JA Biz Town feel like a real city. Each business has several positions, including chief executive officer and chief financial officer. Students learn what it takes to operate a business, manage a municipal government and operate public utilities.
Taylen Nash, 9, spent the day in City Hall as Mayor of JA Biz Town. “I had to get all of the volunteers’ names and make appreciation sheets for them; then I had to go around to every business and take a census of how many people there are, and I had to accept the checks, and I voted.”
Students vote on whether or not they enjoyed JA Biz Town and for the business of the day. “At the end of the day, the business of the day gets a little prize,” said Katie Granucci, Development Manager.
Prizes are not the only takeaways for participants. Everyone’s hard work earns a paycheck, and at the end of the day students can spend their JA bucks at the Biz Town shops. “We do have a few retail shops, one that’s sponsored by Koss, Wisconsin Sports and Kohl’s…and students will actually go to those places, and they’ll be able to buy items from them,” Granucci said.
“It’s really important for them to [spend the money they earn] because if they’re not spending their money, they’re not helping the economy survive. So if they don’t spend their money, the businesses can’t pay back their loans at the end of the day, which is really the goal,” said Wen.
“I got paid $8.82 twice,” Nash said. He spent his earnings on food, but the bigger value is in the experience Nash had. “Getting the chance to be an adult” was his favorite part of the day. To other students, Nash says, “this place is fun, and if you come here, you won’t regret it.”
Although up to 120 youths may run JA Biz Town, adults are key to the program’s success. Each day 15 volunteers are needed. Linda Miller, IT support services manager, Johnson Controls, has volunteered for JA Biz Town several times. “I just love having the opportunity to work with the children and actually give them some exposure to what it is like to work, so they can relate to what their parents are dealing with everyday,” Miller said.
“They get an opportunity to learn about finances. Already some of the employees got several tickets because they walked on the grass, and they realize that payroll check doesn’t go very far because they have to choose between eating or paying bills,” Miller added.
Any organization or school can partner with JA Biz Town to send youth through the simulated Learning Journeys.
To learn more about JA Biz Town or Junior Achievement and about how to get involved visit http://wisconsin.ja.org.