This story appeared in the RBJ’s Rochester Business Hall of Fame 2017 section. See more content from this section here.
There is not a week that goes by where I do not hear some inspiring story of a young person who, against all odds, reframes his or her vision of the future and gains the belief that he or she can and will be successful. This personal sense of self-efficacy (or “I can” attitude) is one of the most important elements in the complex variables that contribute to a student’s ability to achieve.
At the core of Junior Achievement’s mission is the belief in the boundless potential of today’s young people. Regardless of socioeconomic situation, we believe that youth are born into this world with unlimited energy. When purposeless, this energy can turn toward mischief, crime or other negative behaviors. But when harnessed and inspired, it can lead to hope, optimism and empowerment—and ultimately, successful futures.
JA’s sequential K-12 programs are designed to both instill knowledge and inspire youth. Focused on financial literacy, career awareness, work readiness and entrepreneurial thinking, the JA experience provides students with the opportunity to practice life skills needed to be successful alongside an adult who can provide relevant examples and encourage them to follow their dreams.
This past academic year, JA mentors reached more than 14,000 students in Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Elmira and Corning. In Monroe County alone, JA partnered with nearly 500 educators, reaching over 8,000 students, more than half of which were from the Rochester City School District. While focusing in the RCSD is certainly a priority, we believe that every student needs to read and write financially, think entrepreneurially and be ready to compete in the world of work. Until these life skills are required for high school graduation, we will continue to see many high school seniors unable pass a basic financial literacy test—and employers continuing to provide soft skill training at a high opportunity cost.
One of the most important issues facing our community today is the lack of skilled workers for the in-demand jobs available here. There has been much research on the rich capabilities and assets of the Finger Lakes region and the key industry clusters important to transforming our economy, such as optics/photonics/imaging, next generation manufacturing, agriculture, higher education and research, and others. Many parents, teachers and guidance counselors may not have careers in these fields on their radar.
JA curriculum and mentors can play a significant role in exposing students, at a young age, to these opportunities of the future. In the coming months you will hear more about the bold vision for the future of JA in Monroe County, one that involves bringing a scientifically-proven JA model to Rochester to address these workforce and financial issues head on, while bringing authentic, memorable and experiential learning to an entirely new level.
Two sequential programs, JA Biz Town® in fifth grade and JA Finance Park® in middle/high school, will be implemented in our region. This launch will include the construction of a hands-on learning laboratory in Eastman Business Park that will showcase the best of our Finger Lakes economy. After 13 lessons in the classroom, students in JA Biz Town® become “citizens,” running the economy of our future: creating and obtaining jobs, making financial decisions, paying taxes, electing a mayor and even donating to charity.
A few years later in JA Finance Park®, youth leave behind their lives as students and take on life in this mini-city, with a career, credit score, debt, family and financial obligations. They quickly learn the importance of a career to a lifestyle and the real-life decisions that are made every day by adults.
We know that no one organization alone can have impact on the many important issues in our community today. We are fortunate to operate in a community that embraces collective impact, and JA is well positioned and eager to do our part. We believe that every student, no matter their background, has boundless potential and can follow in the footsteps of the Rochester Business Hall of Fame laureates that we proudly celebrate this year.
Patricia Leva is president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Upstate New York Inc.