Junior Achievement of San Diego

San Diego's Stellar Kids



Junior Achievement of San Diego

Every parent wants their child to become a self-sufficient, independent and confident young individual as they head out into the “real” world, where they’ll work 40-plus hours a week, pay bills, buy a car and purchase a house. Junior Achievement of San Diego provides students of all ages with lessons in personal economics and finance, international business ethics and cultures and entrepreneurship. Their mission is to empower young people to own their economic success, prepare young people for the real world by showing them how to get a job, start a business and how to manage money. Junior Achievement of San Diego goes above and beyond to achieve their mission statement. 

Since 1950, over 765,000 students in San Diego County have had the opportunity to participate in the many programs Junior Achievement has had to offer both in the classroom and after school. The lessons and materials from JA of San Diego are presented to students from K-12 by JA volunteers. Currently the have over 5,000 volunteers teaching students from 38 school districts how to get a job, be financially literate and how to start a business. Not only does JA teach students during the academic year in classrooms and in after-school programs, they also have summer camps for students. 

Junior Achievement of San Diego offers students from the ages of 9 to 11 attendance at the McGrath Family JA Biztown Summer Camp program. The camp is a week-long program filled with fun and exciting activities that encourage students to think intelligently and prepare for the future. On the first day of camp, students are tasked to think of a new venture for their group to pursue and complete a skills assessment to discover their strengths. Tuesday is the day for students to learn about which jobs for which their personality is best suited. The third day of camp finds the young people, who will be leading us in the future, applying for jobs in the JA Biztown and determining which position would be best suited for them. 

Thursday is presentation day, when students present their business venture to a panel of judges and to fellow campers. “It’s kind of like Shark Tank, there are two judges,” Kristi Zimsky points out, as she gives me a tour of JA Biztown while students are presenting their ideas. As we were walking through, the students that were presenting at the time were proposing their new product, a hover board, using a skateboard as a prop. Not only do students present the idea behind their product, they also must come up with a business plan that includes a hypothetical investment. Friday is the much anticipated day by the students. On the last day of camp, the students head to work at one of the 21 businesses in the mini-city of the McGrath Family Biztown. 

The students live and work an entire day just as they would if they were adults. Each business in Biztown is a real San Diego business sponsored by their namesake. Biztown has the Mayor’s office, SeaWorld, Union Tribune, Jack in the Box and San Diego Humane Society, to name just a few. “Many of the kids are excited about Jack in the Box, they think there is actually food, but they just serve water and popcorn,” Zimsky shared with me during the tour. The children that worked at the Union Tribune in Biztown have to produce a “paper” at the end of the day, while the dentist office in Biztown has to provide dental checkups throughout the day. Each business has a purpose, and the students have to fulfill the tasks that their occupation for the day requires of them. After a long day of working, they still have to pay taxes. Biztown truly gives kids an opportunity to live a day in adult life; they pay bills, taxes and go to work. Not only do they learn how to get a job, start a business and own their economic success, they also learn to appreciate what their parents do every day. 

Junior Achievement of San Diego has recently opened up Mission Fed JA Finance Park, which was designed with high school students and adults in mind. The goal for the Mission Fed JA Finance Park is to teach teens how to make informed and intelligent financial decisions that will impact the rest of their life. Prior to coming to the finance park, there is an online component for the participants to complete, which allows them to pick their job or career path. Once they come into the Mission Fed JA Finance Park, everything is paper-free. Students and participants are given a tablet for the day, which will have all of their files on it. The only free choice students have starting out is the career path of their choosing; they are then assigned a family status, age and occupation title. Based upon their personal file, students have to budget their money between buying a car, feeding and clothing their kids, paying child support, paying rent or a mortgage, paying taxes and choosing entertainment for their family. “It is a real eye-opener for some of these kids. Most want to buy the new Mustang, but some have to buy that minivan,” Zimsky shares as she points out the car buying station in the finance park during our tour. “We really have a unique program here, no other organization does what we do.” 

Junior Achievement of San Diego unarguably makes learning about economics, entrepreneurship, and money management fun, exciting and entertaining, skills that many young people today are lacking. Zimsky pointed out to me that the state of California recently received an F in teaching students about financial literacy. “According to a 2014 study by the Center for Financial Literacy, California is one of eleven states that have few requirements, or none at all, for personal finance education in our high schools,” she further explains. This past year, with the opening of Mission Fed JA Finance Park, Junior Achievement of San Diego has impacted over 60,000 students. None of their accomplishments would have been possible without partnerships and sponsorships from numerous San Diego businesses, foundations and families. 

Junior Achievement of San Diego honors individuals each year who are inducted into the Junior Achievement San Diego Business Hall of Fame as Lifetime Laureates. Nominated by their peers, Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug of Taylor Guitars, Laurie and Carlee McGrath and Dan Spinazzola of Diversified Restaurant Systems Inc. will be recognized for their life work and leadership have positively impacted the San Diego community significantly. These individuals have impacted their community members throughout their life, and they were recently inducted into the Junior Achievement San Diego Business Hall of Fame.

The young people that are students today will be the leaders of our communities tomorrow. With the support of community members and organizations, Junior Achievement of San Diego will continue to impact, mold and cultivate future entrepreneurs and successful economists.

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