School students in northeast Pennsylvania are learning a thing or two about what it takes to run a business and, more importantly, handle their own finances.
Junior Achievenment of Northeastern Pennsylvania recently opened its doors to give the public a peek at what the organization is doing.
“A lot of people don’t know what we do,” said Ginny Crake, president of Junior Achievement of NEPA.
She said Junior Achievement, a national organization that works to give students the knowledge and skills they need for their economic success, bases its programs on three pillars — entrepreneurship, career readiness and financial literacy.
The local junior achievement organization is one of four in Pennsylvania, said Kalyca Stransky, program director. It serves 13 counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
JA is 100 years old nationally and 50 years old in Pennsylvania.
Part of the program is learning about careers firsthand by spending a day at JA BizTown at Junior Achievement’s headquarters along Oak Street in Pittston Township. Students spend 12 weeks in the classroom preparing for their trip to the JA center.
“They come in prepared for their job — CEO, CFO, store manager, mayor,” Crake said.
“Reporter or photographer,” added Stransky.
JA BizTown is a simulated community set up inside the Junior Achievement building. It includes replicas of storefronts and other places found in a typical downtown. In JA BizTown, students in the program that is geared toward fifth-graders learn about business, finances and how a local economy operates.
Nineteen businesses sponsor storefronts in JA BizTown, which is set up complete with street signs and a walking bridge. The businesses depicted include retail stores, city hall, even a radio station. Some kids get to be the DJ for the day and play music. In the web zone, students can do their version of Twitter, Crake said.
Each business has utility meters that meter readers come and check. The businesses receive bills based on the readings.
In the transportation station, students learn how to identify engine parts, such as the spark plug, and how to check the oil and change a tire.
The students receive a “paycheck” for their jobs. They can use the play money to purchase items there, such as a toy guitar and other novelty gifts.
“It’s like Disneyland for some kids,” Crake said. “They walk in and their little jaws drop.”
Adult volunteers help the students in their roles, Stransky said.
Crake and Stransky encourage visitors to drop by, and the best time to visit is when the students are there.
Stransky said a “handful” of students go to JA BizTown in the fall, and the majority go in the spring.
“In May, we have students here every day,” she said. “On a yearly basis, we have 7,000 students come through here.”
JA of NEPA uses more than 1,500 volunteers, including business people, college students, retirees and others to serve the approximately 10,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12th throughout the 13 counties.
Yet, Crake said Junior Achievement of Northeastern Pennsylvania only serves 6% of students in the area.
“There is room for growth,” she said.