McGrath Family Junior Achievement BizTown provides a learning experience that can last a lifetime
Students take five weeks of lessons then arrive as citizens. They have a job, earn two paychecks, shop, pay bills, go for health checkups, and run a radio, and television station and newspaper. These are just some of the 21 businesses and organizations at McGrath Family Junior Achievement BizTown.
On Oct. 10, fifth grade students from W.D. Elementary School in El Cajon got a taste of what many of their parents do every day. Go to work and make a living.
Kristi Zimsky, JA, public relations, said the San Diego themed city targets San Diego kids, companies and organizations.
“We at Junior Achievement feel that we are the missing link between getting these kids ready for tomorrow’s future,” she said. “This teaches them about money, how to get a job, start a business, and how to look someone in the eye when you are speaking to them.”
At BizTown, these fifth graders elected a mayor, have a judicial system, police and all the businesses that make a community thrive. They are CFOs, construction workers, and conservationists, run an airport, banks, and fast food. But, they also have their teachers, parents and volunteers from local businesses to help them learn the nature of how a local economy operates on a daily basis.
“Teaching these kids how to go out and succeed for tomorrow...we hope that it will teach them lifelong lessons,” said Zimsky.
Katie Eason, JA BizTown, educational manager, said it all began in 2007 with around 1,000 students. She said the curriculum that student go through before coming to BizTown includes lessons on citizenship, the circular flow of a community in an economy, how companies produce materials which goes back into critical resources, hiring process, how to get paid, work in a business or run one.
W.D. Hall Principal Colleen Newman said in the classroom that they learn how it all connects in a community, the entire civics of it. Because someday, they are going to have to go out and do their own finances, run a business.
“Then they get to take on the responsibilities of it for the day,” she said. “What we are trying to do in the schools is to make it relevant for students. Like how is the math I’m doing relevant to anything I am ever going to do? This way they are immersed in the entire system. College and career readiness is everything we are focused on.”
She said this experience and working with the peers of parents and volunteers give them a connection to how it all works in real life.
Robert Cafaro, American West Bank, vice president, volunteered with five of his co-workers for the day. Running the radio station is teaching his group commerce, business expenses and other relative things pertaining to running a business.
“What is important about this is it teaches them that there is a cost for what has to get done and a compensation for what they do,” he said. “This is a fundamental lesson for kids about rewards versus effort. It not only shows them that if you work hard you get compensated, but it also teaches them the mechanics of it.”
Joanne Pastula, Junior Achievement president said the designer of JA BizTown worked on downtown Disney and created the only two-story BizTown in the world designed after San Diego. Biztown’s design is the San Diego County Admin building, Balboa Park, a Gaslamp Quarter and the span to the second floor is the Coronado Bridge.
“There is now a 30-school waiting list,” she said. “ And coming soon is a program for high school students called JA Finance Park. It will be like the Game of Life for high school kids. They will learn how to budget, manage their finances, learn about careers and most of all making them financially literate.”
Pastula said the McGrath Family JA BizTown is possible because of East County philanthropists Carlee and Laurie McGrath who donated $1 million to build the facilities.
“They are very interested in young people and education and they want to change the world,” said Pastula. “So we’re changing the world 15,000 kids every year.”
Junior Achievement programs reach 53,000 students K-12 each year.