It sounds simple enough. Give a firm handshake. Send a written thank you note. Learn to balance a checkbook. Be confident. In short, as Junior Achievement says, own economic success. It’s a bit akin to the “teach a man to fish” adage. The more skills and values that are instilled in today’s students, the better equipped they will be as tomorrow’s leaders.
Stephanie Stuckey, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina. Photo by Bob Lancaster
And Junior Achievement makes it easy. The students don’t have to come to them. Junior Achievement goes to the students. Gracious schools and educators across the world invite trained teacher volunteers in to provide in-school and after-school programs covering work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, all critical skills for today’s leaders. But even more than that, by allowing students in grades K-12 to take an active part in real-world business situations, teacher volunteers see children blossom right before their eyes.
Katy Bair, a Junior Achievement volunteer teacher, enjoys teaching her class at St. Andrews Middle School in Irmo.
For DeMetrius Burrell, a Junior Achievement volunteer and former Junior Achievement student, going through the Junior Achievement program empowered him. “I wasn’t an athlete, so I wasn’t able to shine on the field or the basketball court, but when it came to making business decisions, I found that I had great confidence and critical thinking skills,” he says. These are skills he has taken with him in his current professional position.
When DeMetrius became a volunteer teacher, he had the privilege of seeing a young student realize her potential, as well. “This young girl was very standoffish and quiet when we started, but when we began the business simulation, she went from being this shy little girl to an outstanding student making business decisions. This was very rewarding to witness.” In fact, the student was so intrigued and interested in the program that she went on to compete on a regional level in the Junior Achievement Titan Program. The first-ever Titan Competition took place at Midlands Tech Northeast Campus earlier this year. Students were challenged to be CEOs of virtual manufacturing companies for the day and compete against each other to see whose company was most successful. Future plans include statewide competitions in the Titan Program.
Volunteers like DeMetrius are witnessing these kinds of awakenings across the Central South Carolina area, with more than 11,500 students on target to participate in a Junior Achievement program this year – a 73 percent growth in only three years. “This outstanding growth is proof that the community sees great importance and value in the mission of Junior Achievement,” says Stephanie Stuckey, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina. “We are also very excited about working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands to bring Junior Achievement into all of their clubs.”
Volunteers who give one hour a week for five weeks are changing young lives. Imagine being the one who opens that door in his or her mind that has been closed off. Imagine being the one who explains the keys to interviewing for a job or fearlessly speaking in public.
For native Columbian Bruce Littlefield, Junior Achievement did that and more. “Without question, it helped me achieve my dreams,” says Bruce, an acclaimed author and NY Times-dubbed “lifestyle authority.”
Bruce Littlefield photo by Rochelle Riservato
“At the basic level, Junior Achievement taught me how to run and ‘be’ my own business,” he continues. “I live in the hardscrabble world of New York City, and as the old song goes, ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.’ Junior Achievement gave me the belief that I could achieve great things and inspired my mantra of ‘Why not me?’ Success, I learned, has to happen to someone!”
And learning from those who have already achieved success is an extraordinary way for Junior Achievement students to see how determination and resiliency will lead them down a path of success.
That is certainly the case for Governor Nikki Haley, a former Junior Achievement student. “Junior Achievement was an important organization to me and continues to be for so many students. It teaches leadership and entrepreneurship from manufacturing to retail. Programs like Junior Achievement are great resources for our future leaders,” says Gov. Haley.
Future leaders like Anna Caroline Chinnes, a former Junior Achievement student, was selected to be a Junior Achievement South Carolina Business Hall of Fame Student Ambassador. This opportunity provided Anna Caroline public speaking training, experience and self-confidence – not to mention the good fortune of meeting and talking with some of the state’s most successful business leaders, men and women who once set optimistic goals for their companies and themselves. “Junior Achievement gave me the confidence to pursue my goals,” says Anna Caroline. “It also afforded me priceless opportunities to meet with outstanding business leaders. So I challenge myself.”
Anna Carolina Chinnes, photo by Suzy Chinnes
It’s truly no small task to teach the basics of business to children and teenagers. Teaching them to challenge themselves, oftentimes, has more impact through what is shown rather than what is told. Katy Bair, a Junior Achievement volunteer teacher and a professional in the financial field, experienced this concept when teaching a group of first graders. The lesson, entitled “Our Families,” guides children to recognize the difference between a need and a want, while also identifying the roles people play in the economy and how families work together to make the community a better place. “We have a map lesson where we talk about businesses and what they offer, and then the students each get to make a map of how they would like their community to look,” explains Katy. “One group I was teaching really grasped the concept of how businesses support each other and why it was important for businesses to be in certain locations. On their maps, the children placed their homes near school, the grocery store or the bank. It was a great lesson, and to see the children understand the concept of what I was teaching was so rewarding – for all of us!”
By seeing that the lessons are fun and interactive, children want to get involved, to get their hands dirty, and to play a role. “By placing them in a real-world situation, students are learning the foundations of financial literacy so that one day they will be financially responsible. And it’s also great when I hear them excitedly yelling, ‘Ms. Bair is here!’ when I enter the room.”
A Junior Achievement class only takes one hour a week. “The commitment is very easy,” says Katy. “You provide as much or as little time as you are able. But being able to give back to the community – and to these children – in this way is very important to me.”
Fortunately, the life skills learned through Junior Achievement have made a lasting impact. “As I was preparing to make my Valedictorian speech at my high school graduation, I remembered my Junior Achievement training,” says Anna Caroline. “I remembered to speak up and use my ‘baseball voice.’”
Bruce once wrote on a school blackboard a Chinese proverb that summed up what Junior Achievement meant to him: “Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. But involve me, and I’ll understand.” After he recounted that proverb to the crowd at the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame, he learned that Roger Milliken, a Hall of Fame inductee, had used it on the wall in his plant in Spartanburg. “There is nothing more powerful than someone involving you,” says Bruce. “I learned practical ‘know how,’ the ability to work with others, and a belief in myself.”
And self confidence isn’t always that easy for some children. For many students, the attention to business and financial literacy learned through Junior Achievement is their only exposure to this important lesson in life. “Many kids don’t see this kind of leadership outside of school,” said Katy. “It’s so important to know that this might be the first time some children are exposed to these learnings – which is why it’s even more important to have Junior Achievement in the schools.”
In fact, according to Junior Achievement, students who participate in these valuable programs have a greater comprehension of economics and business than their peers who don’t go through the program.
Junior Achievement volunteer Tyler Hudson works with Elizabeth Hiller’s class at South Kilbourne Elementary School in Columbia.
And for people considering becoming a volunteer, “Junior Achievement allows you to use your background to impact the students,” advises DeMetrius. “If you’re in the military, perhaps your strength is strategic thinking, or maybe you’re a banker, and financial concepts are your strong suit. Through the training process, you learn how to teach the program and add your skills to the process. Do it. You’ll get hooked. It’s a lot of fun and extremely fulfilling.”
For Anna Caroline, three of South Carolina’s business giants sent her a personal letter after she met them – one even mentioning her dog’s name. That memory will stay with her forever. “I learned about their many accomplishments but, more importantly, I learned thoughtfulness, listening skills and good manners,” says Anna Caroline. Certainly, these are skills needed today.
With today’s distractions, 24-hour news cycle and the need for instant gratification, learning the old-fashioned rules of business is a lost art. Junior Achievement hasn’t given up on that effort. And thanks to their well thought out curriculum and their mission to inspire and prepare, young people in the Midlands will better possess the business skills and acumen that will help them to be successful once that diploma and mortar board are gathering dust in the closet. It’s no small achievement – and one great accomplishment.