I did not really start learning about business and personal finance until my early 20’s. While I did pick up some knowledge about budgeting, mortgages/loans, and investing from my parents, it was only because I was curious, paid attention, and asked questions. In my senior year of college, having finished all of my requirements for an applied mathematics degree, I used my free electives to take some business courses to prepare myself for the MBA degree I was planning to pursue in the future. While taking those courses, I learned the pervasiveness and importance of business and finance throughout my life and regretted not learning some of those lessons sooner.
Fortunately, many of the young people of the CSRA will not have such regrets, as last week, I participated in two events that will help foster business and personal finance education for them in the very near future.
On Wednesday, January 25, I traveled to Savannah with over 30 people from Richmond County Schools, Columbia County Schools, and the CSRA business community to visit the Junior Achievement (JA) Discovery Center there. ABD’s Josh Heath was also with us and you may have read his piece about the trip last week.
In addition to the Discovery Center in Savannah, JA of Georgia also has four other Discovery Centers in Atlanta, Greater Dalton, North Georgia, and Gwinnett County. The sixth Discovery Center will be here in the CSRA (in Columbia County, not far from Richmond County), with a groundbreaking next week and an anticipated opening as early as the start of the 2023-2024 school year in August. Our trip to Savannah was for all of us to see a Discovery Center “in action,” so that we could get a preview of what is coming to the CSRA.
JA of Georgia’s Discovery Centers do an outstanding job of introducing business acumen and personal finance to middle school students, specifically sixth and seventh graders. Each set of students in each grade receives twenty hours of classroom instruction prior to their capstone immersive experience in the Discovery Center. Following their twenty hours of instruction, sixth-grade students go through an experience called “JA Biztown.”
JA Biztown allows the students to “interact within a simulated economy and take on the role of employee, taxpayer, and consumer. Students discover the intricacies of being a professional and a member of the community, while working a specific role within a company and they also discover the wealth of opportunities available within their city and beyond.” Students begin to learn business acumen and about the economy, particularly in their community.
After their twenty hours of instruction, seventh-grade students participate in “JA Finance Park,” “an immersive program where they create and maintain a household budget. Students have the rare opportunity to experience their personal financial futures first-hand. Every student receives a life scenario that includes education, family size, and income, which they must manage.” They manage their budgets by “shopping” for mortgages, utilities, food, child care, and many of life’s other necessities. This program is an outstanding introduction to personal finance and students often bring the lessons home from Finance Park to share with their parents.
Richmond County Schools and Columbia County Schools and their respective superintendents, Dr. Kenneth Bradshaw and Dr. Steven Flynt, should be commended on their collaboration and investment in making the CSRA JA Discovery Center a reality. Some national, with headquarters or significant presence in Georgia, state, and local companies such as Delta Airlines, Chick-fil-A, Publix, Georgia Power, and SRP Credit Union have already committed to storefronts in our Discovery Center and there is room for plenty more.
Business community investment in the Discovery Center is an investment in the children, future workforce, and economy of our community and is essential for its success. Sixth and seventh graders in the CSRA will have a big jump on previous generations in terms of business acumen and financial literacy, thanks to the JA Discovery Center.
Two days later, on Friday evening, January 27, I had the pleasure of attending the kickoff of the second annual “J-Tank” program at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts (JNSA). If you are not aware of JNSA, it is a gem of our community. It provides tuition-free after-school and summer camp programming, primarily in the fine arts including music, dance, drama, art, and creative writing.
The J-Tank program is the brainchild of JNSA Executive Director, Gary Dennis, who is also a Hull College of Business MBA alumnus. The aim of J-Tank, which debuted with smashing success last year, is to provide business tools, coaching, and funding for JNSA students and their families interested in starting a business.
Students and their families submit applications with their business ideas and we select as many as possible to participate in the program. After the kickoff meeting, there are four weeks of business coaching, every Friday in February, where we help the students and their families develop their business ideas through sessions on understanding markets, revenues and expenses, funding needs, management, and other topics to help them launch their businesses.
At the conclusion of the four coaching sessions, approximately eight of the “companies” will participate in a “pitch competition” on Saturday, March 11, which will be live-streamed. Some or all of the eight will also be provided up to $500 in startup funds for their business and opportunities for future, more individualized coaching. After last year’s pitch competition, a number of businesses went on to successfully launch and are still viable companies.
This is another outstanding program for young people to learn about business and personal finance. It provides a venue for students and their families to understand what it takes to launch and run a successful business and to better appreciate how to manage the money that the business earns. We are excited to have a number of Hull College of Business faculty participating as coaches and/or pitch competition judges.
I am very excited for our young people in the CSRA, particularly our middle schoolers, who are getting a big jump on business and finance education. The investment of our community into the JA Discovery Center and the J-Tank program will pay dividends for years to come, as our young people will become vibrant participants in our local, state, and national economies.