Before they ever earn their first paycheck, more than 30,000 Atlanta area students will be armed with the financial know-how to budget and spend money wisely thanks to Junior Achievement’s Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center, which welcomed the first 280 students Tuesday during opening day.
“It’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be,” said Camp Creek Middle sixth-grader Jeniyah Lyles, who served as Chick-fil-A’s CFO for the day. “But I kind of like this job. It’s fun. It’s active and it keeps you on your feet.”
Jeniyah and her classmates spent the day tapping away on calculators and organized data on computers to make sure their mock businesses and households operate on a balanced budget.
“You can just see it in the kids’ eyes,” Junior Achievement of Georgia President Jack Harris said. “It just activates their own internal beliefs and aspirations in an entirely different way than just a classroom would.”
Housed in the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta, the 50,000-square-foot facility allowed the first batch of students from Camp Creek and Sequoyah middle schools to transform into adults for one day. Each student became the leader of his or her household and an employee of one of Atlanta’s leading companies as part of the center’s two separate simulated “mini-cities,” JA BizTown and JA Finance Park.
Four school systems — Fulton and DeKalb counties and Atlanta and Marietta — have adopted the four-week lesson plan into their middle school curriculum, which culminates in a day at the $10 million privately funded center, for every student.
From determining a household budget to using banking services, the kids get a firm grasp of the basics with help from major companies and foundations including Publix, Delta and SunTrust.
“It was really important for the center to be an experiential learning opportunity for these kids for them to really get a sense of what it feels like to be an adult working,” said Rodney Bullard, executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation.
Bullard said the middle school students were targeted for the program because they are at the age where they begin to make decisions about their future, including whether to stay in school or drop out.
“At the heart of this, we really want to inspire kids so we can address some of the ills of our education system,” he said, citing Georgia’s low graduation rates.
Twelve-year-old Gael Padron, a Sequoya Middle seventh-grader, said he liked practicing how to apply for a credit and debit card since he’s not a fan of having to carry a lot of money in his wallet. Given his own faux bank account for the day, he said he felt more confident about the process and managing his money.
“When I grow up, I won’t have to worry about where my money is gonna go or what’s going to happen to it,” he said. “It’s good to practice now so I know more for the future, like taxes.”
Harris said opening day was the culmination of two years of taking the concept, which has been fine-tuned in about 20 other cities throughout the U.S., from an idea to a reality.
“The grand vision is after there is a lot of success here with the four school systems we are working with, we expand this across the state and work with other school systems,” he said. “It’s all about helping students on the middle school level connect the relevance of education with their future success.”