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Ready to innovate? JA students prep for future

By Rochester Business Hall of Fame - 10/4/2013

When Junior Achievement of Rochester, New York Area Inc. began operations here in 1968, students learned what goes into starting, operating and sustaining a business. Fast forward to 2013, and JA students are learning broader skills, becoming financially literate critical thinkers-as well as budding entrepreneurs-with an understanding of future career possibilities.

Every year, the Rochester Business Hall of Fame inducts new members who have helped to shape the region as business owners and innovators. The reception and dinner held in their honor benefits Junior Achievement's work. The Hall of Fame is a joint initiative of Junior Achievement, the Rochester Business Journal and the Rochester Museum & Science Center, where the hall resides.
 
When selection committee members evaluate a possible inductee, they look for three attributes:

Contributions to the individual's organization, business, industry and community;

An excellent reputation and recognition as a source of inspiration and encouragement for others; and

Leadership qualities, shown in outstanding and enduring contributions to improving products, processes, efficiencies or human relations of business.

The 13th annual class will be inducted Oct. 8 during a reception and dinner at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.
 
Patricia Leva, JA president and CEO, discussed how JA works with STEM and Common Core State Standards and gave an update on a recent initiative, JA Finance Park - Virtual Rochester, in a recent interview with Rochester Business Journal.
 
ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: Why is JA important to our community?
 
PATRICIA LEVA: In order for Rochester to be growing and vibrant in the years ahead, we need a skilled workforce, an economically self-sufficient population and individuals who are motivated to innovate and create jobs. Preparing today's students to meet these critical needs is where JA benefits our educational system and community.
 
The foundations of JA programs are workforce readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurial thinking. In partnership with the local workforce, JA helps inspire students to succeed, have competitive skills and confidence and understand their role in the economy, which ultimately contributes to local economic vitality.
 
I sometimes hear "JA is for kids who want to go into business." My reply to that is JA is for kids who want future economic success. Every occupation requires financial literacy, critical thinking, innovation and a keen understanding of what your role can be in our economic future.
 
RBJ: How many students participated in JA this past year?
 
LEVA: We delivered programs to more than 14,400 students in our region, about 4 percent more than last year. The length and quality of the JA experience grew significantly. The amount of time our volunteers spent with students increased by over 23,000 hours, or 30 percent, in the last two years. When you combine this with the overall knowledge gain evidenced in our program evaluations, you know JA programs are making a difference in students' lives and our community's future.
 
RBJ: Has New York's adoption of the Common Core State Standards affected JA?
 
LEVA: JA programs, at every grade level, have been designed to align with Common Core State Standards. These new standards are certainly more robust and articulate what students need to know by high school graduation so they have the foundation to complete college and workforce-training programs. JA has been focused on work-readiness education for years. A third of our 22 programs are specifically focused on practice and application of 21st-century skills such as collaboration, communication, problem solving, creativity and innovation, as well as career exploration and planning.
 
To further support the Common Core Standards initiative, JA launched two programs this year: JA It's My Future for middle school students and JA Career Success for high school students, including its first digital app, JA Success Park. These programs combine skill building with technology to help students assess critical life and career needs.
 
RBJ: A recent Brookings Institution report showed that almost 21 percent of the jobs in our community are in STEM fields. What is JA doing to prepare youths for these high-demand careers?
 
LEVA: JA addresses STEM from several angles. First, lesson plans, particularly at the elementary and middle school level, are aligned with the required math curriculum. Students work through standards-based math applications that reinforce the importance of this discipline and help them become career- and college-ready.
 
The second component relates to awareness. We recently surveyed youth to find that 46 percent were interested in pursuing a STEM or medical-related profession, down 15 percent from the prior year. Given that these fields drive our economy, it is critical that we use our vast volunteer network to reinvigorate interest in these fields.
 
Our fifth-grade programs, and the two new programs I mentioned earlier, develop awareness around STEM and other high-demand jobs. We have also created a program with Monroe Community College that uses JA curricula alongside MCC's Career Coach, a Web-based tool that provides an up-to-date picture of the local labor market.
 
Balancing our STEM focus is JA's mission to teach students to think about the future as it relates to their individual skills, interests and values. Our in-classroom programs, as well as our online tool, the JA Student Center, are intended to develop students' self-knowledge and a corresponding path that is meaningful and realistic for each individual.
 
RBJ: Last year you told us about a new pilot program, JA Finance Park-Virtual, a 20-lesson financial literacy program that contained a virtual simulation representing Rochester's businesses and non-profit organizations. What were the results of this program?
 
LEVA: We had over 1,300 students participate, far exceeding our expectations for the first full academic year of delivery. The program had an immediate effect. Before participating, students scored, on average, 43 percent on a financial literacy test. Post-program test scores rose to 64 percent. ... Further, more than 75 percent of the students reported that the things they learned will help them be successful in life. One student noted, "I had no idea the kinds of things that were going through my parents' minds as they made decisions about finances. I thought it was so much easier."
 
RBJ: What do you see for the future of JA?
 
LEVA: The future of JA is very exciting. On a national basis, we are embarking on a three-year transformational plan, the JA Blueprint for 21st-Century Learning. The plan dramatically transforms the way JA does business by integrating online, digital and blended learning experiences into JA's robust portfolio of K-12 programs. It includes a modular approach to middle and high school programs and a comprehensive, state-of-the-art learning management system. These innovations will allow JA to maintain its market position as the nation's leading provider of relevant life and work skills.

In addition, this past summer, JA of Rochester acquired operations in an additional 15 counties to the east of Rochester, including Syracuse, Binghamton and the North Country. We are proud to be able to bring the critical skills and opportunities that JA provides to students in this region.

10/4/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.