Junior Achievement program helps students achieve financial knowledge

kids in a Publix super market with tablets

Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay uses simulations in its JA Finance Park, showing students how budgeting, saving, and investing money affects their futures.  It helps to capture their imagination in a field known for dollars and cents: finance.

“Financial literacy is a fundamental life skill that equips youth with the tools to navigate the complex world of personal finance,” said Maggie Haley, JA of Tampa Bay’s senior vice president of administration. “It empowers them to make informed decisions, avoid common financial pitfalls, and work toward achieving their financial goals.”

Publix Super Markets Charities has been a longtime supporter of the program; with its donations, local schools are scheduled and trained to implement the JA Finance Park experience.  “We are grateful that through their continued support, we can inspire over 10,000 local students annually through the JA Finance Park experience,” Haley said.

JA teaches youth the skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. Its goal is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. The Finance Park program combines twelve in-class lessons taught by teachers with a volunteer-led, hands-on budgeting simulation where students make decisions related to income, expenses, savings, and credit. JA staff schedules and trains local schools for the four-hour onsite simulation.

“The JA Finance Park simulation engages eighth-graders as they build a budget based on a random life scenario so they see how career and education choices can affect their life,” Haley said. “Students, educators, and volunteers agree that it is an engaging program that provides real-life situations that can be applied to future success.” As a part of the experience, students can explore careers through JA Inspire and use the JA app to match their skills and interests to high-demand careers within the Tampa market and beyond.

JA doesn’t work alone. The organization collaborates with schools to address the issues of the skills/achievement gap as well as the economic mobility and stability of our youth.  “Our learning experiences stand out from others because they are delivered by business and community volunteers who share their expertise and life experiences with the students, creating a realistic context that readily engages students and helps them ‘connect the dots’ between what they learn in school and how economics play out in the real world,” Haley explained.

Publix Manager of Associate Diversity and Inclusion LaTarsha Melvin volunteers with JA because she likes helping others, especially youth. “I believe we do better when we know better.  JA gives me the opportunity to help make a difference in young people’s lives, one youth at a time,” she said.  “I am always so proud and happy to see the students as they are gaining more knowledge and confidence in what they do.”

The goal is to give students the information they need and help them understand it through high-impact qualitative experiences so they can join the pipeline of skilled workers and ultimately achieve workplace success. One teacher summed up the value and impact of investing in JA Finance Park in this way:  “Gratitude to those who created and manage the JA Finance Park curriculum and simulation. The students are genuinely interested in the subject matter. The simulation itself provided students with real context. They continued to discuss their life scenario, life decisions, struggles, and wins weeks after their visit. The Career Center was another highlight helping them chart a course for the future.”