When you think back to your time in elementary and middle school, what are some of your greatest memories and experiences? I assume almost no one mentions having to sit at a desk and do Mad Minute Math problems. Some may mention recess, lunch, book fairs, or career day. However, for fifth and eighth graders in Salt Lake County, their time at Junior Achievement City (JA City) will probably be one of their most memorable and cherished experiences.
JA City is an interactive program which provides real-life financial literacy and work readiness experiences to kids in fifth and eighth grade. The students take on roles at local businesses that have sponsored JA City. Fifth grade students actually run the city - they have different jobs within the community and have to work together to make sure it runs smoothly. Eighth graders experience a personal finance simulation where they learn how to pay rent, utilities, etc. The programs focus on developing critical thinking and soft skills and give students opportunities to fail and self-correct in a safe environment.
JA City is in its eleventh year of operating out of the Discovery Gateway Children's Museum at the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City. The programs have become so well known and sought-after that there is now a wait list of over 100 schools - just through word of mouth. This growth and demand has led JA City to expand to Utah County at University Place Mall in Orem. With a $2.7 million in-kind gift from the Woodbury family, Junior Achievement (JA) of Utah decided to embark on a campaign to raise more than $6 million to build this new JA City.
When the new facility attains full capacity, JA City will be reaching an additional 19,000 students. This means between the two JA Cities, their program would impact close to two-thirds of all Utah fifth graders. "We know that students learn best by doing," says Christy Tribe, president and CEO of JA of Utah, "but our current education platforms are not equipped to facilitate this hands-on learning. JA City can help solve that problem."
Tribe went on to emphasize how important this program is not only for the students, but also the community: "This allows kids to see the job opportunities available to them. This is Utah's future workforce and these kids are a captive audience to understand all of the many careers around them. This is the up and coming generation that will ultimately fill the jobs in companies in this area."
With that said, Christy pushed for more involvement from the tech community. "With this new JA City we want to have more tech companies represented. We are trying to build up STEM jobs in the new JA City - we want to have more of a tech presence. The more diverse the store fronts, the more kids can learn about different careers."
One of Silicon Slopes' own leaders, Sid Krommenhoek, has seen the positive impact JA City has had on his children's lives. He said, "Junior Achievement rewards the work and preparation of young students in our state through an immersive experience in JA City, a small-scale take on what local businesses encounter and a real feel at operating a business. My daughter Coy participated in JA City a few years back and still lights up when she talks about it. Coy and her peers are as willing as any generation that came before them to put in the work for a given reward. But, perhaps unlike generations before, they have unprecedented access to information on any given business, are more inquisitive about their employers, and ultimately want to understand and align with company outcomes and values."
Like Sid mentioned with his daughter, students light up when they talk about their time at JA City. Aranza from Woodstock Elementary said, "My day at JA City made me want to live well and be successful in life and have my own company." Hannah from Indian Hills Middle School agreed, saying, "The world around me makes a lot more sense now and I am excited to know more about what I need to be learning to do well in the future." Ashley from South Jordan Middle School said JA City was "one of the greatest experiences of my life. I learned that when you do something you love it's not called a job, it's called fun."
The impact is obvious, the rewards are unprecedented, and the tech industry needs to be a part of it. Together we can inspire the next generation of Utah students with hope for the future.