In greater Columbus, business volunteers reach out to as many as 30,000 children each year helping students understand the economics of life.

In greater Columbus, business volunteers reach out to as many as 30,000 children each year helping students understand the economics of life.

"Our territory in central Ohio is 26 counties and we have programs in 17. We use about 3,000 volunteers a year in 242 public and private schools," said Shawnda Vega, vice president of marketing and communications at Junior Achievement of Central Ohio.

The organization was started in 1919 and is the world's largest organization dedicated to educating students about work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through hands-on programs.

Learning about money
The programs are broken down by grade levels starting as young as kindergarten, and going up all grade levels to high school.

"In elementary programs, the lessons focus on showing the kids how they fit into their communities, giving them a perspective of what their parents do every day in the working world. Once they move up to middle school, we start talking more about what careers they are interested in and how to manage money," said Vega. Middle school programs also teach global economics and trade with other countries.

In high school, there are several programs, from a personal finance planning course (paying for college and credit card debt), to a success skills class on how to interview and how to work with people when you get a job.

The most recognizable program has been the Company Program, in which high school students start up an actual company, create a product, sell it, and then liquidate the company at the end of the semester.

"JA Biz Town is a popular fifth grade program where students come to our office where there is a 10,000 square foot warehouse that houses a mock city with 14 different businesses. Students prepare in the classroom for different aspects of running a business, then they come and run the city for a day," said Vega.

The hands-on program allows the students real-life experience, including having a job, getting a paycheck and taking out loans for their business.

"Throughout all of our programs, the three topics we are trying to hit on is financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness. There is such a lack of personal finance training in the schools, and Junior Achievement is trying to help kids understand and realize that you need to start having good financial habits early on in life," said Vega.

Valuable lessons
Third grade teacher Renee Ziegler believes her students at Hoffman Trails Elementary in Hilliard learn economic vocabulary and concepts they will need in the academic and real world. "The program focuses on helping the students understand how individuals act as members of a community, consumers, producers, employees and employers," she said.

"I have been involved in JA for at least 12 years and I like the time frame that it takes to teach the lessons. It allows ample time to cover the concepts, yet does not overwhelm the teacher or volunteer," said Ziegler.

Ashland Inc. employee Gary Allen, who volunteers in Ziegler's class, says, "In every lesson we talk about the importance of education for all jobs, regardless of skill or pay level. The children learn that all jobs are important to their community and that different jobs require different skills. The common denominator is a good education. Another important point is the need for good communication and presentation skills."

Allen thinks that children enjoy the program for several reasons. First, the lessons are fun and educational. Second, they really like the activities, and finally, they get to experience the teaching of a volunteer who is from the "real world."

"The volunteers can help reinforce many of the points that the teacher makes, just from a different perspective," said Allen.

Special summer BizTown camps!
Dates: Several sessions in June and July
Time: 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Contact: Junior Achievement of Central Ohio to register: (614) 771-9903.

Tune into Biz Kid$ on WOSU HD
Junior Achievement Worldwide has created a new fast-paced HD television series for school-age children called Biz Kid$, which teaches kids about money and finance. It's aired locally on WOSU HD every Sunday afternoon at 5.

"We hope to teach young people how to make and manage their own money. This includes the four focuses of saving, spending, sharing and investing for their futures," said Jamie Hammond, executive producer of Biz Kid$.

In the episodes, the program profiles real kids running real businesses, from big companies with product lines to small businesses, such as dog-walking. The series also shows kids who are running businesses to advance social causes and give back to their communities. This humanizes the financial literacy aspect of the production and shows kids the range of possibilities available to anyone who wants to become a Biz Kid.

"We have developed family and parent/child activities that are designed to follow each episode and can be downloaded from the website (www.bizkids.com). We encourage parents to work with their kids on budgeting their money, and learning about making safe investments. We hope they will encourage their children to think about their futures and, if they like to do something specific, to learn as much as they can about that and follow their passion. We also teach them practical skills for job readiness," said Hammond.


How to start a JA program in your school
Junior Achievement suggests that interested parents and teachers start the process by getting a commitment from the principal and teachers.

"The teacher I've partnered with, Renee Ziegler from Hoffman Trails Elementary, has been wonderful to work with," said JA volunteer, Gary Allen. "She supports me and is there to help reinforce parts of the curriculum that may parallel what she is teaching at the time."

The next step is to contact Junior Achievement of Central Ohio which has three program directors who work with schools to help start new programs and recruit volunteers to teach the programs.

"The staff is very helpful and getting a program up and going is quite simple. Each grade level's curriculum is straightforward and incorporates the state's standards for economics," said Ziegler.