SPRINGFIELD-For more than 100 years, students have been inspired and empowered through Junior Achievement programs, and local teachers are discovering virtual programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that can also enhance their classroom offerings.
“The economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis has impacted everyone,” said Jennifer A. Connolly, president, Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts (JAWM). “With the uncertainty in the economy, it’s crucial to help Generation Z gain the essential skills necessary to increase their employment prospects in the current environment.”
Connolly noted that Generation Z, including the Class of 2020, has been dubbed the “Pandemic Generation” and the “Lockdown Generation.”
“Generation Z is at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation,’ ill-prepared to achieve its potential in a world that is already challenging to navigate for the young,” said Connolly. “Knowledge is power, and Junior Achievement’s proven approach will give Generation Z that power in the form of financial capability, career and work readiness, and entrepreneurship.”
Connolly added that JA programs focus on critical life skills, including managing money, preparing for a job or career, and starting a business.
“These are all things that, as adults, we experience daily,” she said.
For Nicole Stratton, a business teacher at Westfield High School, she encourages teachers to consider the free programs offered by JAWM.
“JAWM programs are free, are relevant, and are extremely user-friendly,” said Stratton, who teaches accounting, marketing, introduction to business and entrepreneurship to students in grades 9-12. “It is for all of these reasons that I think other teachers should consider these programs.”
Junior Achievement was founded in Springfield in 1919 and more than 13,000 students in K-12 in Western Massachusetts participate in programs annually, according to Connolly.
“Now more than ever, young people need to envision a future that they can shape and look forward to,” said Connolly. “At JA, we are all about inspiring tomorrows. Though the ‘how’ of what we do has changed, the ‘why’ that drives our mission remains the same.”
Connolly noted that JA’s commitment to providing pathways to success for young people includes virtual programs that focus on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work readiness through a variety of media. Free resources are available for teachers to incorporate JA lessons in their own distance learning platforms, and interactive events with industry executives can be live-streamed for students.
“We’re really focusing on a future-facing agenda that makes the most of technological resources that can enable JAWM to do what it does best – inspire and prepare young people to succeed in life,” said Connolly. “We don’t know what the economy or job market will look like when our communities begin to start up again, but mentoring young people to be engaged, resilient and forward thinking will be vital to the success of that effort.”
“I think the programs inspire the students as it brings the ‘real’ world into the classroom,” said Stratton. “Students tend to be more engaged if they can see how the material being presented is related to them.”
Stratton said she has been involved with JAWM for a couple of years and during this past year used JA programs for all of her classes.
“I am planning on utilizing the online programs next school year,” she said, adding, “I truly believe by using the JAWM programs that my teaching skills have been enhanced. The programs offered are flexible, allowing teachers the creativity to use it how they think it will suit their classrooms and students. I am excited to have these programs to use and grateful for them.”
Educators who are interested in JAWM’s programs and materials for K-12 students can find more information by emailing Connolly at [email protected] or by visiting https://sites.goggle.com/ja.org/ja-ed-resources/home. On the website, click on the grade level sought and follow the directions to register online and a JA representative will follow up.
“Most JA programs for the 2020-21 school year will be available by mid-July,” said Connolly.
Connolly added that parents or teachers can find activities for K-2 or Grades 3-5, including “A Budding Engineer,” which encourages children to think about their neighborhood and what they could do to fix a problem like cleaning up trash or planning a new playground.
“There are worksheets available for download and videos and activities for K-5 JA programs that are easy to do at home this summer,” said Connolly.
Virtual volunteers are also sought by JAWM and for more details on becoming involved, send an email to [email protected].
“A virtual volunteer is someone who assists the teacher in delivering JA programs to the students,” said Connolly. “In a teacher-led program, the virtual volunteer serves as a guest speaker, an expert on a topic, such as banking, entrepreneurship, or talking about their career and career pathway.”
Connolly added that virtual volunteers can connect with students through a variety of media outlets including Skype, Zoom or Google Classroom.
“Virtual volunteers can speak live with the students or can record a video that the teacher can play as needed,” said Connolly. “With the restrictions put on schools because of COVID-19, it is important for the community to remain connected to our youth and to show them that we support their education and are there to help them grow and learn.”
In other news, Junior Achievement’s annual INSPIRE Career Fair and JA Stock Market will be conducted virtually in October.