Junior Achievement Academy

As the economy begins to pick up speed and hiring managers seek to fill vacant positions, many are finding graduates who are unprepared and lack the basic skills to advance in a business setting.

Offering Students Real-World Preparation

As the economy begins to pick up speed and hiring managers seek to fill vacant positions, many are finding graduates who are unprepared and lack the basic skills to advance in a business setting. Unfortunately, many of these grads don’t get their first taste of the “real world” until after they receive their degrees. Clearly, this is a flaw in the system. By focusing on workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and the free enterprise system early on, organizations like Junior Achievement of Central Florida (JA) can prepare young adults to be successful professionals.

Founded in 1919, JA is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy. In 2012, with the help of more than 3,800 volunteers, JA served nearly 80,000 students in 4,279 classrooms throughout Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia and Lake counties.

Last year also marked a milestone for JA, as it opened its first magnet program – the Junior Achievement Academy for Leadership & Entrepreneurship (JA Academy), located at Oak Ridge High School. A public school/private business partnership between JA and Orange County Public Schools, the JA Academy teaches students leadership and entrepreneurial skills through an integrated and challenging high school curriculum. The program focuses on building economic acumen and leadership talents, while also teaching an entrepreneurial approach to enhance business and community services.

Develops Soft Skills

Unlike magnet programs where only a few classes are shared, JA Academy students matriculate through the entire program together. The cross-disciplinary curriculum also creates a collaborative environment, which often means a project that incorporates various subjects, including English, math and science. Instructors seldom operate in individual silos.

By taking this approach, the school provides skills that many hiring managers and executives are looking for in graduates including communication, organization, leadership and financial literacy. According to a recent study by student online educational resource Chegg, fewer than two in five hiring managers found recent graduates in the past two years prepared for the workforce.

In addition to group learning, the JA Academy uses technology that helps cultivate “soft skills.” Students read on their iPads, link to interactive videos and graphs that further explain lessons and transmit what is on their screens to the smart board in front of the classroom. This “front-of-the-class” experience gets everyone involved, builds confidence and boosts self-esteem.

Stresses Relevancy 

The Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship notes that 81 percent of dropouts would have stayed in school if they felt it were relevant to their lives. This reality is a major reason why the JA Academy focuses on internships, mentorships, guest lectures and tours of local businesses. By connecting classwork with real-world experiences, students become more engaged and willing to learn.

All this directly translates into reducing the dropout rate, which in turn has a positive economic impact. According to a recent report released by Civic Enterprises, a public policy group, high school dropouts cost approximately $1.8 billion in lost tax revenue every year.

Produces Results

Another distinctive feature about the JA Academy is its inclusiveness. Rather than targeting the top of the class, a 2.5 minimum GPA requirement has opened the program to a wide range of students. The only requirement: they must be motivated and eager to work hard.

And the concept is netting measurable results. According to the RMC Research Corporation, JA Academy students outperformed their peers in a number of areas, including PSAT and reading benchmark scores, course grades and course passing/failure rates. For instance, students averaged 23.1 points higher on the FCAT reading test than their comparable non-Academy peers.

Also, as part of the program, students are required to reach a 3.0 GPA at the end of their freshman year. The inaugural class exceeded that goal by averaging a 3.72 GPA.

Influences Surrounding Community

Scholastic success at the JA Academy has had a domino effect – both inside the school and out. Administrators, community members and even students who are not enrolled in the magnet program now view the Academy as a source of pride for Oak Ridge High School.  By creating a positive environment where kids want to learn, JA is keeping them in the classroom and off the streets … and giving them a chance for a better future.

So when the inaugural graduation class walks across the stage in 2016, they will be equipped not only with academic knowledge, but also with practical skills that enable them to think on their feet and outside the box … in short, better prepared for success in the business world.

timTim Meyers is president of Seaside Bank. To learn more about business mentorship opportunities at the JA Academy, visit JACentralFL.org or contact Kathy King, V.P., JA Academy,
at (407) 898-2121 ext. 21 or kking@jacentralfl.org

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