Busy parents, do you have trouble finding time to walk the dog? Fourth-graders Caden Hearld and Liam Blacklock are here to help.
Students, do you wish you could ask a friend for help with homework when you’re by yourself? The answer may come from the “Student Connector” software application, created by a team of middle school students.
These young entrepreneurs understand many of your concerns and have solutions to assist you — solutions that allow them to earn money at the same time.
In classes across the Kansas City area, Junior Achievement volunteers are teaching students how to make and manage money and choose a career they’ll enjoy. It’s a mission volunteers have been promoting with a passion for nearly 100 years. Although students are still in school, they are are learning to plan for their own prosperity as successful business owners, managers or employees and as adults capable of handling money responsibly.
“The mission of Junior Achievement is to provide hands-on programs to promote financial literacy, entrepreneuership and a 21st century workforce,” said Joe Jacobs, director of administrative service and planning for Kansas City Power and Light Co.
Jacobs of Kansas City, North, has served on the board of Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City for more than 20 years. He also teaches the Junior Achievement curriculum in classrooms.
Some students who learn about operating a business think that entrepreneurship might be their calling. They’re trying out their concepts now on friends and neighbors.
In a Platte City neighborhood, for example, dog owners can call C&L Dog Walking for Caden and Liam, who will walk Fido for 30 minutes for $5. Caden, 10, and Liam, 9, are fourth-graders at Siegrist Elementary School.
In Prairie Village, parents can call Owen Hill — a 17-year-old junior at Shawnee Mission East High School — to take a child to athletic events, ballet recitals, play practice, piano lessons and other activities. His fee is donation-driven.
Superintendent Jim Hinson of the Shawnee Mission School District was so impressed with an invention by middle-school students in a Junior Achievement class that he promised to help make their concept a reality — with the expertise of the district’s information technology staff.
Hinson recently was one of five judges on a panel at Indian Woods Middle School. The judges listened to four teams of students pitch products or services they created. Hypothetically, the students were asking the judges to invest in their business.
The presentations were the final session for the Junior Achievement curriculum, “It’s My Business.”
One team envisioned the “Student Connector,” which would allow students to get help from other students by posting a homework problem they’re working on.
“This could be extremely beneficial to students,” Hinson said. “It could help with homework when they’re stumped at home with a math problem, for example, and this makes their peers their teachers.”
Investing in kids’ financial future
Students of all ages are being encouraged to take an interest in their financial future. Junior Achievement lessons are designed to teach kindergartners through seniors in high school what it takes to succeed in the workplace and how to earn, spend and save wisely.
“This is a fun way for students to learn how business works from someone who’s in business,” said Kari VanWinkle, fourth-grade teacher, who has used the Junior Achievement program for nine years in the Platte County R-3 School District.
In VanWinkle’s class, Caden and Liam participated in a six-session Junior Achievement course taught by Randy Johnson, a community banker and officer with Country Club Bank in Leavenworth.
The Junior Achievement volunteers come from the community and bring a different perspective to the classroom, VanWinkle said.
Johnson’s lesson one day was about problem solving. He asked the students to identify challenges a business could face.
Caden and Liam had already considered one of their challenges and had come up with a solution.
“What if we’re walking a dog and we get a phone call?” Caden asked.
The solution? Callers interested in dog-walking services hear a recording to leave a message, Liam said.
At the high school level, Junior Achievement introduced a program in 2016 called Launch Lesson where local entrepreneurs speak to students about starting and sustaining a business.
Owen Hill and other students in a financial literacy class at Shawnee Mission East learned about owning a business from Becci Meissner, owner of RSVP in the Village, a custom stationery and gift shop in Prairie Village.
She advised students who want to own a business to “network from now until forever” because word-of-mouth referrals are so important to bringing in new customers.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into starting your own business, observed Natalie Payne, 14, an eighth-grader at Indian Woods.
Natalie was a member of the No-Wheat Treats team. They created snacks containing no gluten or dairy products. The students experimented with recipes and came up with their own cupcakes and brownies for the judges to taste.
They calculated the space needed for a bakery, 36 feet by 30 feet, at $20 a square foot and how much they would need to spend for supplies.
Junior Achievement appeals to the entrepreneurial spirit, said Joan Wells of an Overland Park business called Wellington. She started her event planning and marketing business 28 years ago when she was 23. For more than five years now, her company has donated all the planning of Junior Achievement’s annual fundraiser, the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.
“Junior Achievement promotes economic empowerment of youth,” Wells said. “The idea is the easy part of starting a business. Junior Achievement teaches kids that they have to have the skills and business sense to succeed in the work world.”
Along with Hinson, Wells was one of the five judges at the Indian Woods student presentations in December. The judges were impressed by the uniqueness of the services and products presented, she said, and all groups pitched a specific niche solution to a problem or opportunity that exists.
“There were some great ideas but when you did the math, the business could not break even,” she said.
And that’s where Junior Achievement comes in.
“We want to show students the relevancy of what they’re learning to the real world — why they need math,” said Megan Sturges, the organization’s president and chief executive officer.
There’s a real world outside their neighborhood, outside their comfort zones that students should see, she said.
“Students need to be ready to transition from being judged by test scores to being judged by credit scores,” Sturges said.
Credit scores was one of the lessons in November for students at Westridge Middle School in Overland Park.
“Your credit scores affect you and the way you live,” Jack Rosenberg told students. Rosenberg is assistant branch manager for Beal Bank in Overland Park.
“This age group loves to spend money,” said Mary King, who teaches Careers and Money Management to seventh- and eighth-graders at Westridge.
Having Junior Achievement volunteers come in to her classroom and encourage students to open a savings account, explain the difference between credit and debit cards and discuss the value of a good credit score helps reinforce the lessons King is teaching.
“I know Junior Achievement provides a good financial base. I had it in middle school,” King said.
Rosenberg concluded his discussion about credit scores with a board game, where students draw cards that determined whether they improved their credit score by purchasing their first house, for example, or lowered their score by declaring bankruptcy.
All Junior Achievement courses involve active participation by the students. Lessons begin with a discussion and usually end with a game or team activity.
Some volunteers achieve almost rock-star status in younger classrooms.
Robert Herschede, a director of human resources, found his kindergarten audience enthralled when he told them where he worked: Worlds of Fun.
“Do you get to ride rides all day?” they asked.
His office job didn’t diminish their awe for him.
“The students love Monday because they know he’ll be here,” said Jennifer Bianco, kindergarten teacher at Oakwood Manor Elementary School in the North Kansas City school district.
Herschede said he looks forward to the class as well because he enjoys the way children think, and he has fond memories of Junior Achievement as a third-grader in Ohio.
At Oakwood Manor, Herschede taught a six-session class about using money.
“What do we use money for?” he asked the class in reviewing the previous week’s lesson.
For needs and wants, they told him.
The kindergartners ended a lesson about saving money by rolling dice and coloring a picture of a pig in a workbook, symbolic of a piggy bank.
Jeff Greig, chairman of the board of directors for Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City, also participated in the program as a student.
“We met after school and formed a company structure with a president, treasurer and marketing director,” Greig recalled. “Then we had to think of a product and how to make it.”
He remembers fashioning table lamps from glass jars and selling them door to door. The jars were rejects of nondairy coffee creamer containers that didn’t make it to store shelves because the labels were crooked. The students removed the product label, wired the containers for lighting and filled the glass base with colored sand.
That was 40 years ago when Greig was a junior high student in Illinois.
Greig said the experience stayed with him and influenced his decision to earn a master’s degree in economics. That led to a position at Burns & McDonnell, where Greig has worked for 24 years and is now senior vice president of business and technology services.
In Greig’s day, Junior Achievement was an after-school program that attracted students interested in business.
Now, Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City is conducted as an in-school program with an emphasis on reaching at-risk students.
The program began nationally in 1919. The office opened here in 1955 as Junior Achievement of Middle America. About 400 students and 20 volunteers participated at that time.
In the 2015-2016 school year, some 800 volunteers helped Junior Achievement reach more than 21,000 students in 11 counties — an increase from 17,900 the previous year.
The organization operates as a nonprofit on an annual budget of more than $850,000. A third of the funding comes from foundations and grants, a third from individual donors and corporate support and a third from fundraising and special events.
Although the cost to deliver the program averages $33 per student, there is no cost to a school to participate in Junior Achievement.
“The major focus now is on Kansas City’s urban core and the Title I schools,” Sturges said.
Title I schools are those with a high number of children from low-income families.
About 10 years ago, the board decided to “concentrate our dollars in the districts where students can benefit most by bringing professionals from the community into the classroom,” said Joe Jacobs, education chairman of the board.
Today, about 70 percent of the schools served by Junior Achievement here are Title I schools.
“We want to have a conversation about managing money that may not be happening at home,” Sturges said. “We want students to graduate from high school and have a career plan — whether that be vo-tech, community college, a four-year degree.”
When a student considers a career path, the student also needs to weigh the financial costs of education required, she said.
“For example, how long will it take to pay off debt for your education?” Sturges said. “We want students to look at all options and make better decisions.”
Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City
4001 Blue Parkway, Suite 210