Real-world experiences, suffering through the challenges of running a business and working tirelessly to uncover a solution for the problem at hand … imagine tackling these issues all before recess. This happens with Junior Achievement.
Each year, thousands of students across South Carolina have the invaluable opportunity to participate in Junior Achievement programs in the classroom. These classes are aimed at inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy, which is increasingly difficult as many young people are more content holding a video game remote than thinking about solving a real-world problem. Children place more value in building a castle in Minecraft than in building a business. Junior Achievement continues to work hard to change that mindset, and it is using business leaders, volunteers and parents to help with this mission, thus helping supplement the tireless work of teachers in the classroom.
Fortunately, it appears to be working. Just ask Alden Brinkley, a senior at Dutch Fork High School. Alden has been participating in Junior Achievement classes since he was in second grade. Due to his interest and eagerness, his first foray into Junior Achievement classes led him to be student ambassador, one of a select group of student volunteers who are tasked with sharing their experience in the program with business and community leaders at the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame banquet. At the young age of 8 years old, Alden was already speaking in front of 500 business leaders sharing his Junior Achievement experience. Public speaking is a feat many 38-year-olds have not yet mastered.
The value of Junior Achievement is not lost on Alden’s parents, both of whom are Junior Achievement volunteer teachers. “Junior Achievement helped give Alden confidence at such an early age,” says Teresa Brinkley, his mother. “Talking in front of a group, much less 500 people, can be extremely intimidating. Junior Achievement has been instrumental in helping Alden hone his public speaking skills.”
It has also opened the world to Alden, connecting the text book to real-life experiences. “You don’t always get to experience real-world scenarios in the classroom,” adds Teresa. “Junior Achievement opens the business world to children in realistic, easily digestible terms, enabling them to better understand what being an entrepreneur is.” From following what happens to raw materials in a production process to understanding free enterprise, Junior Achievement is committed to reaching children as young as kindergarten in an effort to motivate students to be cognizant of the world in which they live.
The world was indeed opened to Alden when he first took part in a Junior Achievement class, and it has made a lasting impact. “Junior Achievement is so important to today’s students because it teaches us skills that aren’t necessarily taught in school,” says Alden. “It teaches business skills and ethics that are crucial when running a company or working for someone else.” This is keen insight for a young person. It is no doubt setting a foundation that will serve Alden and other Junior Achievement students well when they take that first step into life after school.
With Junior Achievement, students don’t just talk business — they do business. Through the Junior Achievement Titan program, students are tasked with operating a virtual company through web-based simulation. Success is based on students’ decisions regarding price, marketing, research and development and business acumen. Alden’s Titan class included running a small business selling holograms, where he and his class had hands-on experience controlling all aspects of the business, from marketing and sales to production and inventory … as well as the ever-important budget. “Junior Achievement has taught me how to be a leader, while also instilling the importance of listening to others’ opinions,” adds Alden. “I have also learned about entrepreneurship and what it means to have the freedom to run a business.”
This feeling of ownership and empowerment by today’s students is what drew Casey Pash to join Junior Achievement as its new president. “Our future workforce is in the classroom today,” says Casey. “Future CEOs of our wonderful businesses are headquartered in South Carolina, future politicians — how can we impact these students who are going to lead our state and our country? Junior Achievement can help teach students the workforce skills they will need to be successful.”
Casey’s experience working with The Original Six Foundation will serve her well in leading Junior Achievement. The Foundation was founded by Governor Nikki Haley and has a mission that complements that of Junior Achievement — a focus on uniting public, private and civic leaders in an effort to address issues facing South Carolina in education, quality of life and workforce readiness. Casey’s experience directing this organization serves as a strong springboard for leading Junior Achievement in its effort to help students strive for greatness. Further, she understands it can’t be done without the help of volunteers who are at the ready to assist teachers in their valiant efforts.
Because Junior Achievement is a volunteer-led effort, not to mention being offered at no charge to the schools, Teresa feels passionately that all schools should be offering Junior Achievement programs to their student population. “I think schools should jump on this opportunity to share Junior Achievement with the students, as it runs with the curriculum and provides such valuable, useful material,” she says.
Junior Achievement begins with key building blocks of understanding how the real world works. From understanding the difference between wants and needs to the concept of exchanging services and/or products for money, Junior Achievement provides a foundation for these children to build upon. Introducing these concepts early in a child’s schooling can really push them ahead in their ability to understand the business world in very practical terms.
The material is not just focused on business. It also helps young people understand the number of varied and unique professions available to them, as well as ways they can be better community citizens. This focus on helping students be more well-rounded and learned has been instrumental in changing Alden’s approach to school. “Since I started Junior Achievement, I respect school more and cherish the knowledge I obtain,” he says. “It helped to open my eyes and show me that school and education in general is extremely important.” These courses have also been instrumental in providing practical experiences in working and compromising with others. “Without this, you will be one step behind others trying to get the job you want,” adds Alden.
For Alden, jobs aren’t too far in the future. But first, he must tackle his college applications, and Junior Achievement has been a useful tool in this effort as well. It’s the determination he learned through school and Junior Achievement that is helping him to prepare his applications. “Sometimes the tasks seem tedious and stressful, but you just have to power through them because the reward is worth it,” says Alden.
Alden has found Junior Achievement so rewarding, in fact, that he is now teaching courses himself. His first course was held this school year in Karin Lane’s second grade class, and he will again teach this semester in Andrea McKnight and Rhonda Hite’s second grade classes — all at Ballentine Elementary, where Alden attended school. The school had such an impact on Alden that he used this opportunity to give back to the school that gave him so much. He is teaching the Our Community course, where children learn more about their community, the specific skills required for different jobs, how business and government help a community, as well as how money flows in a community’s economy.
Having been on the other side of the Junior Achievement course, Alden has learned what works well with the students. For him, that is excitement and enthusiasm. He has also found that keeping students’ attention is easier when they feel involved and challenged to think. Making it fun and filling the class with activities keeps them engaged and interested. “While your level of enthusiasm can depend on the age group you’re teaching, I found that making the class fun also makes it easier to teach,” adds Alden.
Seeing students become volunteer teachers is extremely rewarding to the staff at Junior Achievement. “To see students like Alden personally impacted by Junior Achievement and then choosing to give back to South Carolina as a Junior Achievement volunteer truly underscores our mission of preparing young people to move forward in a global economy,” says Casey.
While Alden enjoyed being a Junior Achievement student, the volunteer teaching aspect may have won. “Although I love being a Junior Achievement student, I prefer being a teacher and interacting with the students,” he says. “This preference is driven by being able to see the light ‘click on’ in their heads after they understand something or being excited about learning something new. This makes the entire experience worth it and really leaves a mark on you. It’s priceless.”
The impact the Junior Achievement courses and volunteer teachers have on students open vast opportunities and prove that no dream is too small or incapable of being achieved. A five-hour course can leave indelible memories in the minds of a child: what was once thought impossible can now be reality; the opportunity to achieve greatness. Now that is priceless.