Children Of The Coin
Eighth Graders Learn Critical Lessons at Junior Achievement Finance Park: They’re Transformed Into Adults Who Must Make Critical Financial Decisions for Their Families
By Hamil R. Harris
In the shadows of FedEx Field, is G. James Gholson Middle School, equipped with a corridor made to look like mini mall. Here, eighth graders in Prince George’s learn about handling personal finances, balancing bank accounts, and making good financial choices.
The “mini-city,” complete with neon lights, kiosks, and store fronts opened in the Fall of 2015 and was created through a joint effort with the school system and many corporate partners lead by Junior Achievement of Greater Washington (JA). The JA Finance Park is a venue for eighth graders to learn about financial literacy at a critical time in their lives, said Junior Achievement’s President and CEO Ed Grenier.
“It is about choices and making decisions,” he said in an interview. “I always get chills because I am in there when the light bulbs go off. It’s a powerful moment. Every single kid in the county is learning about the importance of handling their finances and they will be part of a generation that gets it.”
During the school year, eighth graders across the county will get a 15-lesson curriculum that culminates with a virtual shopping trip in which students will be given scenarios to shop under the watchful eye of their mentors from the business community.
Upon entering the Finance Park, they are transformed into adults who must make critical decisions for their families. The students are given a real-life situation on their computer tablet, where they must make decisions based on salary, credit profile, and financial obligations.
Junior Achievement plans to open its third Finance Park this year at the Thomas Edison High School of Technology building in Montgomery County. The first JA Finance Park opened in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2010. To date, more than 71,000 students have become JA Finance Park graduates through 18 locations nationwide.
The JA Finance Park in Prince George’s is supported by businesses and organizations across the area that include: Capital One Investing, Chick-fil-A of Capital Boulevard and Steeplechase, Community Foundation of the National Capital Area, and others.
In July, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker awarded a $20,000 grant to help pay for JA Finance Park’s curriculum at three additional county schools: John Hanson Montessori, Oxon Hill Middle School, and Oxon Hill High School.
“Across Prince George’s County and in all of our programs our goal is to give young people an opportunity to know that there is a future and that they can take their destiny in their own hands by working hard and staying focused,” Grenier said. “We give young people the opportunity to live out their dreams and we do that in a number of ways.”