Wed, June 12, 2024

“Achieving” success for students in the CSRA

A center that brings together nearly 30 businesses, governments, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations to give middle school students a leg up in life has opened.

The Junior Achievement (JA) Discovery Center of the CSRA held its grand opening on January 11. The center is a partnership with JA, the Columbia County School District (CCSD), and the Richmond County School System (RCSS). This is JA’s 6th center in Georgia and one of 30 nationwide.

John Hancock, President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Georgia, said it started with a phone call from CCSD Superintendent, Steven Flynt. Prior to joining Columbia County, Flynt was an associate superintendent at Gwinnett County schools and was familiar with the center there.

According to Hancock, “He said, ‘I’ve got a building that could probably work, and we might have some resources that could help out from a funding standpoint.’ So, I was out here, within a week or two in the building. I said, ‘Let’s do this.’ It really was as simple as that.”

The goal is to better prepare students for the career and financial challenges they will face in the future.

“We’re in a state that really values business, and that wants kids to have opportunity to learn about business and see what opportunities there are for them in their futures in business,” Hancock said. “So, I argue that we’re really early stage part of a workforce development continuum.”

The list of the companies and organizations participating in the center reads like a “Who’s Who” of businesses, both locally and nationally. It includes Delta Airlines and Georgia Power, SouthState Bank, and Jim Hudson Lexus along with non-profits including the Community Foundation of the CSRA, Habitat for Humanity, and the YMCA of Greater Augusta.

The Delta storefront features real airline seats.

“We’re really the largest and best organization in the world, teaching young people about business and exposing them to possibilities for their careers and their future. And businesses like that,” said Hancock. “This is the opportunity for business to tell the story of business and to tell the story of financial literacy, and to help get kids ready for that. We’ve lost a lot of this kind of content, and ethos in our school systems.”

That loss of early training has caught the attention of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

A sign at the YMCA storefront explains what students will do in BizTown and Finance Park.

During his end-of-the-year presentation to the Columbia County Chamber last November, state President and CEO, Chris Clark said the state’s recent college graduation rate is 5.8%. The problem is graduates lack real-world skills.

“We started doing the research and we found some interesting data. How many of you had a summer job growing up? After school job growing up? Not anymore,” Clark told local business leaders. “Nationwide right now, 6% of your high school students get an internship or apprenticeship. Only 30% had a summer job last year. That was 50% 20 years ago. Only 17% are working after school. That was 30% 20 years ago. Today, 40% of your kids are graduating having never worked a day in their life.”

At the Columbia County, storefront students will learn about the election process.

The center, which is made up of two parts, will provide middle school students with skills to improve both their personal lives and their career opportunities. Each of the storefronts instructs students about their individual business or organization.

One section, JA BizTown, will immerse sixth-grade students in a simulated economy. They will devise a business plan, create a product to sell, and determine the price point to entice customers to buy. It is a two-fold education. First, to teach them how to be a business professional. Second, it will give them a taste of the employment opportunities available to them in metro Augusta.

The second section is JA Finance Park, and it is geared towards seventh-grade students. They will be placed in a “life situation,” such as an executive or blue-collar worker, either single, married, or married with children. It is to help them experience a real-life financial future.

“And our students do need it,” Dr. Malinda Cobb, Associate Superintendent for Academic Services for RCSS told ABD. “It’s different than it was even when we were younger. There’s a lot of virtual currency. Kids don’t pass cash anymore. So, I think that this opportunity does give the students a chance to get that taste of what it’s like.

Clark also encouraged businesses to get involved with students in middle school and to do more to engage with high school students.

“What I would encourage you to do is think about how you are employing and engaging with high school students in your classrooms. They don’t know the opportunities in their community, they’re not getting those opportunities. Where are your internships or apprenticeships? Are you creating spaces for high school students to come in, to get educated and get understanding,” he asked.

Hancock said the new center can give up to 15,000 students a year the immersive opportunity to learn life skills. The majority will be from Richmond and Columbia counties, but he said they will also be able to host students from smaller school districts, private schools, and home-schooled students.

“That’s engaging students in their learning, but it doesn’t just end here,” Flynt told ABD. “It begins in the classroom. This is a culminating activity. But it’s what we’re trying to do all across the district, and I think all across in general of education.”

Parents are also urged to get involved by volunteering at the center. The center is in the CCSD Support Building at 4395 River Watch Parkway, Suite 6.

More information about Junior Achievement and the centers is at www.georgia.ja.org.

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