What can five hours do? For many students in the Central South Carolina area, it can provide indelible memories, invaluable messages and endless hope. And as little as five hours is all that Junior Achievement asks of its volunteer teachers, either all in one week, over five weeks or spread out across a semester.
Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about preparing for the workforce, the value of entrepreneurship and real-life financial literacy through hands-on, experiential programs. With nearly 11,000 students reached during the 2011/2012 school year, Junior Achievement is making a tangible difference both in the lives of students and the volunteer teachers who give so unselfishly of their time. Take Hannah Horne, WIS News 10 Sunrise co-host. While her duties for the news team keep her extremely busy, she has found the time to share her talents and insights with students at Dutch Fork High School through the Junior Achievement program.
“On the first day of class, I saw their interest and enthusiasm for learning business and putting their skills to work as a team launching their own company,” she says. “On any given day in television news, I will have to report a story on a young person getting in trouble. Being a volunteer with these bright young people is a constant reminder of the talented, committed caring students we have in our community.”
The efforts of the volunteer teachers cannot be underestimated. “Volunteering and getting in the classroom are necessities for the success of our students and the future of our community,” says Stephanie Stuckey, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina. “Everyone needs to be financially literate and workforce ready while learning the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur.”
More and more teachers across the community are requesting Junior Achievement in their classrooms as they see the importance in what the volunteer teachers impart. But it’s not just in schools. Junior Achievement also can be found in church groups, summer camps, Girl Scout troops and the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Birchwood School.
Timothy Bunch, Birchwood School assistant administrator, says bringing Junior Achievement to the school was a collaborative venture. “Our teachers are committed to providing real-life experiences for our students and value the support of community partners to help us,” he says. “Junior Achievement was a perfect fit.”
Timothy says it was also an opportunity to help students see that there are options available other than making negative life decisions. That important lesson wasn’t lost on one student, Isaiah. “I learned how to prioritize my finances – knowing how to spend based on my needs first then my wants,” he says.
Timothy saw the light bulb go on in many of the other students’ minds as well. “During a game, which challenged students to think about spending priorities, it was interesting to watch them grapple with what they considered important,” he says. “With limited money available, students were able to make fairly wise decisions about spending, when having a cell phone or Internet access at home is considered a modern-day necessity. In reality, these are actually luxuries when living on a limited income.” It’s a testament to Junior Achievement’s Personal Finance classes that the students begin to think differently and more wisely about money. It’s teaching responsibility.
Jeremy Faulkenburg, who had the opportunity to volunteer teach at Birchwood School, says that seeing the students understand and apply concepts is extremely rewarding. “During one lesson, we were trying to explain opportunity cost as it relates to budgeting,” he says. “The examples I used were quite standard, for example, wanting to eat lunch at a restaurant every day and also wanting to save for a car. The option not chosen would be the opportunity cost. One of the young men raised his hand and asked if opportunity cost was what you give up when you make a decision. I nodded, and he continued to explain that the opportunity cost of his decision that led him to DJJ was being away from his family and friends. That’s when you know they get it.”
It’s these real-life scenarios that are making a difference in the lives of children across South Carolina. To that end, Junior Achievement will be launching Junior Achievement Finance Park Virtual, the first capstone program for any Junior Achievement office in South Carolina. Capstone programs combine practical applications in real-world situations with principles learned in the classroom. Students receive classroom instruction from both their teacher and a Junior Achievement volunteer. Once the curriculum is completed, students go through a four-hour online simulation to learn about budgeting.
“Each student is given a life situation, and then they have to go through and budget their money for the month,” says Stephanie. “They don’t choose their life situation, and the situations vary. Some students might be high school graduates with two kids, making $28,000, while others might be accountants, making more money, with student loans and no kids. The students won’t get all the answers right the first time around, but to watch them along the journey will show how they need a program like this.”
It’s this hands-on approach to teaching that played a part in the success of Steven Mungo, CEO of Mungo Homes. Steven participated in Junior Achievement as a high school student and was even voted Junior Achievement Student of the Year. A key skill Steven obtained during his time with Junior Achievement was learning how to read a basic profit and loss statement, and he learned that companies that didn’t find a way to add value lost.
“Junior Achievement helped me understand the correlation between initiative and success,” Steven says. “It seemed like the best performing Junior Achievement companies back then were the ones that worked the hardest and came up with the best ideas, just like the real world. You don’t normally have that perspective on the real business world as a teenager.”
Junior Achievement also enabled Steven to expand his horizons culturally, when he was afforded the opportunity to be involved in a cultural exchange called Companeros de las Americas. “We traveled to Cali, Colombia, where I addressed young people and business leaders who were interested in setting up Junior Achievement in Colombia. It was very well-received.”
To be sure, Junior Achievement has an impact on students outside of the classroom. In Hannah Horne’s Company Program class, she has seen the students apply marketing, operations, finance and leadership skills in their own personal lives. “Many of the students work after-school jobs from cutting lawns to retail,” she says. “They have said the Junior Achievement curriculum has them making more sales and working more efficiently in their jobs. They are also thinking forward to future jobs and careers.”
Those same students can also be found tracking the stock market, thanks to an exercise in their Junior Achievement class where they work as a team to track the performance of several popular stocks that students can relate to – Nike, Wal-Mart, Disney and the like. Students take great enjoyment in reporting on the companies’ earnings or losses, as well as relevant stories they see or read in the news. “Many of the students have told me after the exercise that, until then, they didn’t know how the stock market worked,” says Hannah. “To this day, they track the stocks and tell me how they are doing!”
With all its wonderful contributions to both the teachers and the students, one of the more rewarding aspects of Junior Achievement is when students realize the fruits of their labors. For the students at Dutch Fork High School, the Company Program curriculum has them forming a company, raising capital, selling a product, making a profit and then liquidating. Hannah’s class developed and sold a breast cancer awareness t-shirt. They doubled their investment, paid off their investors, liquidated and donated the profits to Becky’s Place at Lexington Medical Center. “When we donated the money to Lexington Medical, the students had such a feeling of pride that their company had done this,” says Hannah. Seeing that success and making a difference in the lives of others often can’t be taught; it must be experienced.
With the help of Junior Achievement, some negative experiences can also be lessened, such as the growing burden of financial issues. “Without Junior Achievement, many of these kids would never be exposed to the fundamentals of personal finance,” says Jeremy. “As adults, many of us take for granted our basic understanding of checking accounts, credit cards, interest, insurance, etc. We often forget that these are concepts that must be learned, either taught to us or through personal experience. Unfortunately, the lessons learned through personal experience are often accompanied by major consequences. Junior Achievement provides the opportunity for students to become familiar with these concepts before it gets to that point.”
The pride the volunteer teachers receive in imparting wisdom and insight that can help students think and act differently is something they all cherish. The impact is immeasurable. “We can’t sit back and cross our fingers and hope that our young people have the skills to be successful in life and contributing members of our community,” adds Stephanie. “We would be at fault for not stepping up and giving what we could to support our future business leaders. If people realized that they can be the reason our young people want to succeed purely by volunteering in a classroom and sharing their story, they would see that they could be a part of the solution.”
What can five hours do? It turns out, quite a lot.
For more on the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame, click here
For more on the 2013 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame Laureates, click here.