Junior Achievement Reinvents Itself by Teaching Kids Real-Life Economics

Article excerpt

WHEN many of the seventh-graders at the James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury, Mass., first read the following scenario in their class workbook, they understood it well: "Your friends don't plan on staying in school past age 17, so why should you? You think that once you drop out you will be able to earn money for all the things you want - clothes, cars, and good times. You also think others will respect you more because you'll have a job."

After a year of Junior Achievement classes, however, including one called "The Economics of Staying in School," many of these students say they have changed their minds about dropping out. "Before, I thought {school} wasn't worth it," says Tiffany Williams. "Now I know that, with no education, you aren't going to get paid too much."

Junior Achievement is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Over time, the organization has evolved from an after-school program focusing on job skills for high school students to an in-school, kindergarten-12 curriculum designed to educate students to value free enterprise, understand business and economics, and be work-force ready. Junior Achievement relies entirely on volunteers from the business community and gets the majority of its funding from corporate donations. Kids in need

"In the early '70s, we realized we weren't reaching a broad base of students, that we were not reaching the kids who'd benefit the most," says Ed Grocholski, spokesman at Junior Achievement headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. The move, in 1974, into middle schools was based on the premise that students should know how to handle personal finances by the time they get to high school.

This past school year, the elementary school segment was fully launched in response to an even more urgent problem: "Over 80 percent of school dropouts can be identified by the second or third grades," says Ron Cody, president of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, based in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities were among 20 pilot programs around the country serving elementary school students.

"We ask why economic education is not required curriculum in every school in the country," Mr. Cody says. "Kids who don't understand how the economic system works have the deck stacked against them."

More than 40,000 K-12 students in the Minnesota region were enrolled in Junior Achievement classes this year; approximately 1,580 volunteers worked in about 336 schools. "The best measure of success is demand," Cody says. "The demand was so great that we could not possibly respond to the number of requests from elementary school teachers, for example. …