Junior Achievement (JA) in Morrison County started in 2014-15 with just five classrooms. Today, local JA serves 118 classrooms, with a goal to serve 120 this year.

It started when Teresa Giese, who taught JA in St. Cloud, moved back to Little Falls and wondered why the program wasn’t in the area schools.

After all, in St. Cloud more than 300 classrooms and 8,000 students were involved. In Brainerd, 250 classrooms are involved, reachng 6,700 students.

Giese, Angie Petersen and Larry Filippi, explained to the Little Falls School Board what JA is and how it impacts students, without the schools having to commit resources of any kind.

JA is the world’s largest organization giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to take charge of their financial success.

Giese explained the program is delivered by community volunteers who are business minded. Students in grades K-12 receive relevant, age appropriate hands-on experience on financial literacy, work force readiness and entrepreneurship skills.

The programs are set up sequentially with the ideal goal to start teaching students in kindergarten and each year through grade 12.

Kindergarteners learn very basic skills. They learn about themselves, about basic money skills, the difference between needs and wants and how they can contribute as part of their family.

In first grade, students learn about their families, jobs they can do to help out and basic knowledge about money.

In second grade, students learn about their community; in third grade about their city; in fourth grade about their region; fifth grade their nation, with the program building through each grade.

JA has capstone programs, Giese said, that take place at the end of elementary school, middle and high school.

The capstone program for elementary school is called “BizTown,” a simulated city located at JA headquarters in St. Paul, she said. It’s a 10,000 square feet with 17 different businesses within that space.

Kids learn about the town, what they need to do, interview for jobs, after they’ve applied for a job and eventually get a job.

Giese said it takes about 100 kids to run the city for a day. The students get paid, they have to take the money to the bank and receive either money or a debit card to buy things in the city.

“It’s a fun thing, but very educational for kids,” Giese said.

This is the first year Morrison County will be taking a group — sixth graders from Pierz will be attending BizTown in May.

“We’re hoping we can expand that to other school districts,” she said.

In the middle school program, students are learning about how social media impacts them for the long-term, really relevant things kids should learn at that age, said Giese.

In high school, the program offers real-life simulation on a computer.

“Each kid gets their life dealt to them,” said Giese. “You might be janitor with three kids and you’re married and you have a spouse who doesn’t work, or are a doctor who doesn’t have a spouse. But you still have to have a house, house insurance, a car and car insurance, groceries and it all has to fit in their budget.”

Most of them with advanced education in their simulated life will also have student loans, she said.

The local JA group purchases kits put together by the Junior Achievement program.

Petersen teaches a second grade class where her son is a student.

She said the volunteer time is pretty minimal — five lessons at 45 minutes a lesson. The kit contains everything a volunteer needs to teach the sessions. When the sessions are finished, the kits are recycled and reused for the next class, to keep costs down.

Volunteers work with the teachers on the shedule, whether it’s a 45-minute lesson once a week for five weeks, or once a day for week — whatever works for the volunteer and teacher.

The teacher does not leave the classroom when the volunteer is there, but is able to help out as needed.

The only parameters for the volunteer’s time is that lessons must be given during the school day during the school year.

Giese said the local JA Board’s goal is to have one volunteer for each classroom that has signed up.

“It’s a nice way for people to volunteer,” she said.

Since the local organization is all volunteer, the only cost is for the kits. So far, Filippi, Giese and Petersen said, JA has had a lot of success with grants, and donations from businesses and individuals

The cost for a kit is about $250 and a kit is needed for every classroom.

The nine-person volunteer Board has a goal to raise $30,000 to impact about 3,000 kids in the community.

Although the local JA Board has not put together a fundraiser on its own, it has taken part in other activities that raise money.

“The goal is to plan a fundraiser that hopefully we can start bringing more awareness and having the community’s support,” said Giese.

Filippi said the businesses have been very generous with the local outreach and the group hasn’t had a difficult time raising funds.

“But as we continue to grow, both the need for money and volunteers grows,” he said.

“Right now, volunteers is as a big a need as we have,” he said.

Anyone who would like to know more about the JA program or who would like to volunteer, can contact Petersen, the volunteer committee chair, at (320) 232-9156 or contact any other board member.

In addition to Petersen, Giese and Filippi, other Board members include: Emily McGinn, Mandy Barber, Christa Provo, Aubrey Hoggarth-Cook, Carl Simmons, Katie Hoehisel and Jolene Howard.

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