With ‘JA in a Day,’ OSU Federal Can Teach Financial Literacy Lessons to Children Quickly

Oregon State University student Annalee Cocker (left) has worked with OSU Federal’s Anissa Arthenayake on “JA in a Day” for two years. This year, she taught third-graders about money and starting a business.

It should come as no surprise that Anissa Arthenayake believes passionately in the power of financial literacy to change lives for the better. After all, as director of community education for OSU Federal, it’s her job to give children and adults the tools they need to make better financial decisions for themselves and their families.

But here’s the thing: There’s nothing in the job description that says Arthenayake’s husband has to play a role in that effort, or that her children have to sit through the financial lessons. And yet the entire Arthenayake family has done exactly that – evidence, perhaps, that Arthenayake may be on to something with an intensive, one-day program called “JA in a Day.”

“Both of my kids are or have been in this program,” Arthenayake says. “My husband has taught for six years, and he loves it.”

“JA in a Day” is a unique concept that allows volunteers to teach all of the lessons of Junior Achievement’s six elementary school programs in an immersive and effective one-day effort. During the course of just one day, students learn about various aspects of financial literacy, work readiness, entrepreneurship and more.

Students in the second grade learn about “Our Community,” for example, by tracking how money moves through a community, creating jobs and generating tax proceeds that pay for schools, parks and streets. In fifth grade, students study “Our Nation” and learn about economic concepts such as opportunity cost and supply and demand.

OSU Federal partners with Junior Achievement of Oregon & SW Washington and students from Oregon State University to host the program at elementary and middle schools throughout the mid-Willamette Valley. Last month, Arthenayake and a team of 28 business students taught 14 classes at Green Acres Elementary School in Lebanon, reaching more than 265 students.

“It was fun to see how excited the students were to learn about money and starting a business,” says Annalee Cocker, a Finance/International Business major at Oregon State who has taught in the program for two years. Before recess, her third-graders “learned about ‘wants’ and ‘needs,’ and about how to find a job and make money so that they could meet their needs.”

“JA in a Day” is a national concept, but OSU Federal’s program is one of the few held in the Pacific Northwest. Arthenayake started it in 2009 after meeting with Sandy Neubaum, the director of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program at Oregon State.

“Sandy runs a student organization called Enactus, and one of the organization’s missions is financial literacy,” Arthenayake says. “The students aren’t supposed to miss school, but there are usually no business classes on Fridays. So we thought of teaching the entire Junior Achievement unit in a three-and-a-half-hour time frame.”

The challenge, Arthenayake says, was getting a school to give up blackboard time.

“Teachers have so many things they need to cover with very little time,” she says. “But one benefit of the JA material is that it is correlated to the state teaching standards. So this is material they would need to teach anyway.”

“JA in a Day” volunteers work on certificates and other materials for students at Green Acres Elementary School in Lebanon.

John Hancock, the president of Junior Achievement of Oregon & SW Washington, signed on. So did Ilene Kleinsorge, dean of the College of Business at Oregon State, who saw the program as a way to help give her students more life experiences and show them more than one side of a classroom. 

“Our first school was Franklin School in Corvallis, and we’re still in Franklin,” Arthenayake says. “The children who were kindergarteners in 2009 will have had this curriculum building on itself for six years.”

Her son, Kyle, now a high school senior, took part in middle school. Her husband, Kavinda, has taught as a community volunteer every year. “It was a fun way to learn in a different environment,” Kyle says now.

In its first year, the OSU Federal program reached 326 students in 12 classrooms at Franklin. Since then, the program has been held in as many as six schools and reached as many as 2,070 students a year. Earlier this month, “JA in a Day” volunteers taught classes at Santiam Christian School in Corvallis. They’ll be back at Franklin School on Feb. 21, at Hamilton Creek School in Lebanon on March 7, and at Pioneer School in Lebanon on May 23 and May 30.

At some of the schools, Oregon State students teach classes by themselves. In others, they partner with a community volunteer. Sometimes, they work with a high school teaching “cadet” — a student who dreams of someday becoming a teacher. In every case, Arthenayake leads a two-hour orientation session to prep volunteers on grade-specific materials.

The curriculum costs about $150 per classroom. Oregon State students stage a bowl-a-thon to help cover the costs; Arthenayake’s budget at OSU Federal covers the balance. To Junior Achievement’s John Hancock, the entire program speaks volumes about the power of partnerships.

“Partnerships are paramount to the JA model,” Hancock says. “We employ just 15 people in the region, but we will have well over 3,000 volunteers this school year. As the hallmark of JA, volunteers utilize our content and curriculum to make theory come to life, and to expose young people to what the real world will look like in their future.”

That real world can be tough, Arthenayake knows, without a strong financial foundation. That’s why “JA in a Day” is just one part of an OSU Federal commitment to financial literacy that reached more than 13,472 children and adults at 571 workshops and seminars in 2013 alone.

“We believe that through financial literacy, our communities will be stronger and our neighbors will be more empowered to make better decisions to help themselves and their families,” Arthenayake says. “If people have trouble financially, that struggle is reflected in many aspects of their lives. Financial education keeps all the legs of the chair stable, so that when there are problems, they can handle them more easily.”

For more information on OSU Federal Credit Union’s financial literacy efforts, contact Anissa Arthenayake at 541.714.4093 or Anissa@osufederal.com. For information about Junior Achievement programs in Oregon and Southwest Washington, go to jaorswwa.org.


Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Federal.