Calling Credit Union Volunteers to JA Biztown, Finance Park for Financial Literacy

Give a student a day out of the classroom at Junior Achievement’s (JA’s) BizTown or Finance Park, and you’ll get back someone who understands the consequences of spending and budgeting. It has lived up to its billing as the “ultimate field trip,” one that holds fifth graders accountable for their spending and puts middle school students to the test managing family budgets.

At JA BizTown, the “mini city’s” restaurants, governments, media outlets and other businesses are run by the students with the assistance of adult volunteers. At JA Finance Park, spending accountability takes on new importance for the young participants. The Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) is helping to organize staff from metro Seattle credit unions to unite as volunteers either April 3 or 17. A similar event is planned for credit union volunteers in Portland, Ore., April 4.

“Volunteers are an essential part of the JA Finance Park learning experience,” noted Trisha Wyman, JA Finance Park’s Washington manager. “As students navigate their way through their day in the life of an ‘adult,’ they are tasked with an abundance of budgeting decisions that range from how much to spend on groceries each month to the best medical insurance plan to meet their family’s needs. In order to be successful, it is necessary for them to have the guidance, facilitation and reassurance provided by adult volunteers.”

“It’s a great way to observe and recognize Financial Literacy Month, as well as the United Nations’ ‘International Year of Cooperatives,’” said Lynn Heider, assistant vice president of communications for the NWCUA. “Credit unions have prioritized financial literacy since the beginning, and this is a fun way to continue that tradition.”

The first opportunity is available for 22 volunteers to work with 130 enthusiastic middle school students April 3 at Seattle’s JA Finance Park. The training session begins at 8 a.m., with the days’ activities set to conclude by 2 p.m.

The other opportunity for Seattle-area credit union volunteers is at JA BizTown in Seattle on April 17. The volunteers will work with fifth-graders from approximately 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Volunteers can sign up for one of several convenient two-hour training sessions offered in the weeks leading up to the event.

A volunteer event at JA BizTown in Portland has been arranged for April 4. While a number of volunteers have already stepped up for that event, there are still slots available. That opportunity offers volunteers same-day training.

Volunteers, teachers and students who’ve experienced JA BizTown or Finance Park typically arrive excited and leave evangelizing the programs.

Consider the testimony of Tim Carstens, principal at Terminal Park Elementary School in Auburn.

“It isn’t often that one encounters a program that has been so thoughtfully designed, passionately pursued, or so eloquently pulled off. In my opinion, JA’s BizTown is the shining example,” Carstens said. “It combines the curriculum we are working on with our students and puts it into an application that is rewarding to the students. In fact, it is rewarding to the parents, teachers and volunteers involved as well.”

Carstens reports that nearly 65 percent of Terminal Park’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch and rarely get the opportunity to leave Auburn—unless they are on school field trips. As much as they appreciate trips to zoos and prehistoric science displays, there is no substitute for financial literacy.

“My teachers, PTA and I maintain that giving students the opportunity to experience what life will be like after testing is done is an important lesson that they must learn, learn quickly, and at which they must demonstrate proficiency,” Carstens said.

Students who have experienced JA BizTown or Finance Park also report stunning results.

“I learned many things and realized it’s hard to survive in this world, and now I have more appreciation for the things my parents do for me, said David C., a middle school student whose appreciation for money was enriched by his experience at Finance Park.

“Budgeting your money is a powerful thing to know. If you overspend, you go in debt,” said Saul M., a middle school Finance Park graduate. “When you’re organized in a budget, you see if you’re overspending.”

Even later in life when those former students are working at “real jobs” and paying their bills, they credit the Junior Achievement learning experience.

“I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do until a teacher pointed me in the direction of Junior Achievement,” said Jeff Hansberry, president of Starbucks Channel Development. “The experience of running a JA company, mentored by business volunteers, showed me a path—and it included graduating from high school and going on to college.”

Online registration is available for all three volunteer events by visiting the links in this report.


Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor:

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