Junior Achievement (JA) of Georgia has created an interactive, marketplace environment where children’s dreams about future careers actually come to life. Set in the fictitious community of JA BizTown, students have the opportunity to experience a day-in-the-life of a working professional.
A Microcosm of Atlanta
Located in the Georgia World Congress Center, BizTown is an interactive community that serves as a microcosm of the Atlanta business community. Representing such businesses as Chick-Fil-A, AT&T, UPS, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Delta, RockTenn Recycling, and the Atlanta Falcons, the space is masterfully designed with authentic store fronts, a central, artificial lawn, and a stage for the mayor and CEOs to give town speeches. The realistic design of the space and the energy of the students make the town feel like it has come to life.
Interactive Learning Environment
The purpose of BizTown is to create a learning environment where students have the opportunity to experience what it is like to be an employee, tax-payer, and consumer. Within their respective companies, students are given the responsibility of carrying out their job assignments for such positions as CEO, CFO, sales manager, and marketing director. They are expected to quickly learn these job responsibilities, become acclimated to their unique business environment, and contribute to the day-to-day operations of their company, effectively simulating a “first-day-on-the-job” experience.
However, students’ experience at BizTown is not the only time where they have had a chance to discuss what it is like being a part of the global economy. In fact, prior to arriving in this community, students complete three weeks of JA-provided coursework which interweaves concepts of practical economics, career awareness, and entrepreneurship.
Their time in BizTown serves as a culmination of their learning experience where they have a chance to put into practice what they have learned in a fun and interactive way.
In addition to teaching students to balance the demands of job assignments, this hands-on model makes learning basic financial literacy concepts fun. Within the span of four hours, students learn how to develop a personal budget, deposit a paycheck at the bank, and make purchasing decisions. Many of the middle school students for which BizTown is geared have likely never written a check or balanced a checkbook before participating in this program. Participating in this simulation gives them the chance to practice these skills among their classmates and see how they are necessary for becoming a responsible consumer.
Bridging the Business and Education Community
Business and community volunteers play a key role in making BizTown a success. They are responsible for overseeing the students in each of the businesses, ensuring that they know their work responsibilities and are able to carry them out.
While the students work, volunteers are able to share practical tips and life lessons which serve to make the learning experience even more powerful.
This interaction gives the volunteers a chance to give back to their community by preparing the next generation for both professional and personal success.
Several Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) team members recently had the privilege of spending a day volunteering at BizTown. Here’s what a few of them wrote in reflecting about their experience:
Aundrea Gregg – “I was not only impressed with the overall setup of Junior Achievement’s Biz Town, I was also blown away by the hard work and business sense of the students I had the pleasure of working with on my volunteer day. As I helped out at the Delta shop, it was endearing to watch students develop pricing and marketing strategies, practice customer service skills, and for the students who acted as the CEO and CFO, get a taste of managing employees and running a company.
Chris Elder – “The immersiveness of the JA BizTown environment combined with the fast-paced tasks really kept the kids focused on the simulation. The students I helped thoroughly embraced their roles and often found themselves needing to prioritize and make tradeoffs in how they should spend their time.
“It was great exposure to some very important non-academic skills.”
Michael Schulte – “Overseeing the students assigned to RockTenn Recycling, I observed the challenges of running the day-to-day operations of a business. Not only can the accounting become a nightmare if you don’t stay on top of it, but making sure the employees are doing their tasks (and are equipped for their job) is a major challenge…This program wonderfully simulates a ‘real work’ experience.”
Katherine Greene – “I had the pleasure of coaching a group of sixth graders as they ran the operations of a Chick-Fil-A restaurant…In the real world, these students may not have been old enough to work, vote, or be the boss, but they were learning how to manage a restaurant, write checks, deposit checks, have staff meetings, pay bills, earn money, purchase goods, and even vote for a mayor. I commend JA Biztown for helping the students to experience the hustle and bustle of a real community.”
A Shared Vision
The investment that JA is making in students’ lives to prepare them for future success is commendable. Its strategy of involving local business and community volunteers to achieve this goal aligns well with the work GCO is doing within our Breakthrough Norcross Initiative. Both JA and GCO desire to see students dream big and reach their full potential, and we know that this is only possible as members in the community see it as their responsibility to help make this happen.
In addition, Aundrea Gregg found a common thread between the work she is doing with GCO and the work JA is doing with students at BizTown. Listen to her words as she describes the potential that this program has in continuing to shape future leaders in our state:
“After the first business period, one of the flight attendants said, ‘Is this what your day is like? Being an adult is so much work!’ By the second business period, however, everyone seemed to have found their groove and the same young lady said ‘Eh, it’s not so bad after all!’
“The ‘light bulb moments’ that I witnessed were exactly what made the day so special.”
“Thinking on my work for the College and Career Pathways initiative, it is also those light bulb moments that drive home the importance of bridging in-classroom learning with hands-on practice in real-life scenarios. I am excited for all the knowledge the students gained at BizTown, and that this program may soon reach many more students across the state.”
A BizTown program is slated to open up in Gwinnett sometime soon.
Image Credit: Atlanta Public Schools (featured image) and Junior Achievement of Georgia