Yakima County Development Association - Junior Achievement's Biztown: Investing in Our Future

Jonathan Smith

The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news. 



Junior Achievement's Biztown: Investing in Our Future

June 06, 2011

Later this week a host of politicians, business leaders and community boosters will celebrate the grand opening of Junior Achievement's new facility in Terrace Heights. The building, called Biztown, is a big success story for the Yakima Valley and it will be exciting to officially cut the ribbon at this new operation that serves students in Central and Eastern Washington.

Junior Achievement (JA) is a national organization that teaches young kids about business, economic and life skills. They have Biztown facilities across the United States that host field trips from elementary, middle and high school classes. JA also uses volunteers to teach their stepped curricula in classes from kindergarten through high school.

ja biztown - mcdonaldsIt will be nice to celebrate the opening of Biztown this week but it's not the most important event taking place at the facility these days. Last week I had the pleasure of volunteering at Biztown and helping my daughter and her fifth grade classmates enjoy their special field trip.

Preparation for these field trips starts in class a few weeks before each class's visit. Each student is paired with a business and given a specific job to do for the day (my daughter ended up as Chief Financial Officer at Yakima Valley Credit Union). It was exciting to see 100+ kids arrive at the center and plug into their businesses. The building is named appropriately because in almost no time the kids turn the place into a busy beehive of activity.

Every student learns to deposit their paycheck, put money aside for savings, and maintain their check register. As team members in a particular business, each student also has specific responsibilities to make the enterprise work for the day.

Biztown Herald Newspaper Staff I was a volunteer at the newspaper. We had to sell ads, invoice advertisers, make deposits, lay out the paper, take photos, meet tight production deadlines, and sell the paper. My team did a great job and I was very impressed with Junior Achievement's attention to detail. Each business was well organized and offered real world learning situations for the students.

Given that the center is brand new there are still some bugs to work out. The interface between classroom teachers and JA center staff is critical so that students come prepared and that instructions are clear. With time these expectations and instructions will get ironed out more precisely. I was nonetheless very impressed. It is extremely challenging to keep 100 high energy kids focused for a half day.

The lessons learned at Biztown and through volunteer driven instruction in classrooms are invaluable. Seeing kids save money, balance their checkbook, and take charge of their financial affairs is so important. The skills kids learn by working as a team to advance a specific business are about as real world as anything I can imagine. JA makes these experiences fun and you can see kids get excited about their future, which makes me confident that these topics will stay with students long after the field trip or classroom experience is over.

In an era when our economic future is anything but certain I cannot think of any subjects in school that are more important for our children. Teaching our younger generation financial literacy and pushing them to pursue careers helps ensure that they land and stay on their feet in a world that will continue to change rapidly.

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"We can do two shifts per day to major markets, Seattle, Spokane, and Portland, and be within legal hours...from a cost perspective, it's a major savings." - Gary Christensen, President, R.E. Powell Distributing