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Preparing future leaders, Rochester-style

People who have helped to shape the Rochester region as business owners and innovators once again will be recognized with induction into the Rochester Business Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is a joint initiative of Junior Achievement of Rochester, New York Area Inc., the Rochester Business Journal and the Rochester Museum & Science Center.
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 the products, processes, efficiencies or human relations of business.

The 12th annual class will be inducted Sept. 27 during a reception and dinner at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. Proceeds from the event will benefit Junior Achievement of Rochester.
Junior Achievement’s operations here began in 1968 as an after-school program for high school students. They learned what goes into starting, operating and sustaining a corporation. Today, students of all ages in JA’s programs learn about financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness.
Patricia Leva, JA president and CEO, discussed JA Rochester’s new program, JA Finance Park – Virtual Rochester in a recent interview with the Rochester Business Journal.
ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: Why is the work of Junior Achievement so important?
PATRICIA LEVA: The future of our community depends on our students’ abilities to create jobs, to think like entrepreneurs and to be economically self-sufficient. For decades, JA has delivered a powerful set of programs that provide students with exactly these skills-and I would argue that these skills are as critical now as they have ever been.
The statistics are daunting. Less than half of high school seniors in this country can pass a basic financial literacy test, and more than half of employers say that new entrants into the workforce lack basic skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and teamwork. More than 60 percent of kids say they are interested in owning their own businesses but don’t believe they have the skills to do so.
The issues are no different right here at home. In fact, they are coupled with below-average graduation rates in one of our largest districts. Unfortunately, a significant number of jobs available over the next decade will require more than a high school diploma.
Junior Achievement helps address these issues. For our community to remain strong and grow into the future, our students need relevant, real-time examples of why they should stay in school, how they can generate and manage income, and how each of us has a role in driving future growth in our region.
RBJ: Tell us about your new program, JA Finance Park – Virtual Rochester.
LEVA: This program directly addresses many of these issues. It teaches students in-depth personal financial management tools and helps them explore careers and the path required to obtain these careers.
But it is done in a non-traditional and unique way. First, the program is 20 one-hour sessions versus five to seven hours in a traditional JA program. A volunteer from the business community supports the classroom teacher with real-world examples in more than a handful of these lessons, particularly in subject areas where the teacher needs the most help. Second, the program culminates in an online experience in a virtual city, one that resembles real businesses and other organizations in Rochester, so students have the most relevant experience about how they can be engaged in their community.
RBJ: What do they do in this "virtual" Rochester community?
LEVA: Students receive a real-life avatar (with a job, salary and pre-established life situation) and are required to make decisions around housing, food, savings, transportation, health care, entertainment, clothing, education, investments, philanthropy and more. They virtually "purchase" these goods and services from simulated Rochester businesses, all for the life situation they have received and within the means that their given careers provide. Students see fellow avatars interacting throughout the city, and they accumulate points based on positive decisions. Basically, they put to the test everything they learned from their teacher and their business volunteer over the prior 16 lessons.
RBJ: You ran a pilot program last year. Who was involved, and what did you learn?
LEVA: The pilot reached almost 600 students. It was important for us to pilot the program in both an urban and suburban environment, and given the math- and technology-intensive nature of the program, we wanted to offer it at both the middle and high school level. All populations had increases in learning, but knowledge gain was most significant in middle-grade, suburban classrooms.
We also saw significant attitudinal shifts in students. For example, 90 percent of students who participated reported more confidence managing their personal finances. Seventy percent agreed they were more aware of the steps needed to get a job and had more confidence they could compete in the global marketplace.
We knew we would have an impact on students, and we clearly did. But to have this impact, we needed our teaching partners to allow us the extended time in already very busy classrooms. Because the JA curriculum is aligned with the new national Common Core standards, this type of interdisciplinary experience became an important tool for educators to meet the new real-world standards.
We also found our business partners were engaged in this type of relevant learning. They can raise awareness of their companies not only by sending volunteers into classrooms but by lending their names to an interactive virtual city. Students can associate their career interests with local businesses.
RBJ: What are your plans for this academic year?
LEVA: We have eight districts interested in delivering the program, and we hope to reach at least double the number of students. We have the virtual city about 30 percent populated-this includes storefronts, billboards, the airplane and blimp, stock tickers, etc.-and are moving toward full occupancy.

JA Finance Park will be a key component of our growth in the year to come. We’ll deliver it in conjunction with other JA programs. Our elementary programs outline basic business concepts and lay the foundation for future learning, and our other middle and high school programs build on increasingly complex issues. Just like mastering any skill-whether it be math, sports or a musical instrument-students need to practice multiple times and on multiple levels.

9/21/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].


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