by NATHANIEL NELSON
In Jessica Schmidt’s kindergarten classroom at Goodview Elementary School, students sit down for a social studies lesson on responsible spending. However, despite the setting, Schmidt isn’t the one standing in front of them –– instead, Kaleb Storm, a volunteer from Merchants Bank, is there to coach them on financial responsibility.
This scene comes from the district’s Junior Achievement program, which is connected to the global nonprofit organization Junior Achievement USA. The program focuses on bringing together students with community members to help teach social studies lessons in areas like work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. The organization, which was initially created in 1919 in Springfield, Mass., to help educate children during the Industrial Revolution, has continued into the modern day delivering its experiential learning programs.
“Junior Achievement is a partnership with various community organizations and businesses who work with their employees to find volunteers. The community members learn the Junior Achievement curriculum and come in to teach different lessons to classes,” Goodview Principal Emily Cassellius said.
The program has been used in Winona Area Public Schools for over 15 years, Cassellius explained, and when she was teaching herself, she brought in Junior Achievement as often as she could. The curriculum for the program is based on Minnesota social studies standards, so each grade has its own unique lesson plan, and community members are brought in over the course of six weeks to teach students about important life skills and lessons.
“They teach things about community, businesses, cities and how they work, as well as lessons about finance,” Cassellius said. “As a teacher myself, I’ve always had Junior Achievement come into my classroom. The students really appreciate it because they have a guest, and we treat those guests as experts in the community.”
Schmidt explained that her volunteer, Storm, comes from a banking background, so he is uniquely qualified to teach the students about finances. Of course, kindergarteners won’t be learning the ins and outs of investment accounts and how to take out a loan, but even at the ripe age of five, children can still benefit from financial knowledge.
“They talk about wants and needs, ways to use money responsibly, healthy foods versus unhealthy foods, and the kids get so excited when he comes in because they love when guests come into the classroom,” Schmidt said. “Our person is at a bank, and we’re talking about money and how to be responsible with that, and it shows a real-life application of what they’re learning.”
The lessons are given once a week, she explained, with each day taking on a new topic.
“It gives the students a fresh view and a fresh face,” Schmidt said. “They’re with me all day long, so it’s fun and exciting to have someone else come in.”
The lessons themselves are also very interactive, Schmidt added. She explained that despite the community members being unlicensed, they are taught heavily in the curriculum and are able to connect with the kids well. Storm, for instance, ends each lesson with a workbook where students can go put stickers and write in to show their understanding.
“The lessons are really hands-on and applicable in the real world,” Cassellius said. “To bring in an expert or a special guest to teach those lessons makes it more meaningful for the kids.”
While the lessons themselves are important, and the method is unique enough to get kids excited, there are other easons for Junior Achievement to make its way into the classroom, Cassellius said. Chief among those reasons is connecting students with the community and vice versa, allowing each to have a new view on their home.
“As public schools, we feel it is really important for us to get our community members into our schools so they can see all the great things that are happening,” Cassellius explained. “To teach a lesson like this, and to have someone who works in a bank or in the business world who can be an expert and share their experience … it’s meaningful and impactful for the students.”