Jack Harris, president of Junior Achievement of Georgia, gives a tour of BizTown at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Thursday to the Gwinnett County Board of Education and senior staff from Gwinnett County Public Schools. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
ATLANTA — Managing life events typically expected to be handled by adults will be introduced soon to Gwinnett County middle schoolers.
Budgeting tools, credit scores, car breakdowns and applying for bank loans are just some of the things sixth-graders and eighth-graders will be exposed to through a partnership with Gwinnett County Public Schools and Junior Achievement of Georgia. Board of Education members and GCPS senior staff toured the Junior Achievement Discovery Center at the World Congress Center on Thursday.
The partnership is in its preliminary stages ahead of the opening of a similar facility in August 2015 at the new Berkmar/Central Gwinnett relief high school on Old Norcross Road.
The Discovery Center is a facility that’s divided into two sections, “Finance Park” and “BizTown,” that opened in September and serves students from Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton and DeKalb County Schools and Marietta City Schools. There are 25 similar concepts within Junior Achievement across the country.
At the Discovery Center, there are 50 storefronts of well-known companies such as Chick-Fil-A, Delta, SunTrust, Equifax, Kia Motors and Kaiser Permanente.
In those storefronts, the students, with the help of a parent volunteer or volunteer from that business, learn how to operate the business, conduct transactions and sell products. The businesses pay an annual sponsorship and provide volunteers daily.
Starting in 2015, Gwinnett middle schoolers will be offered a version of Finance Park and BizTown. The district is the third in the country to offer a model of the format, after Fairfax County, Virginia and Broward County, Fla.
The district’s director of social studies, Debbie Daniell, has visited and communicated with officials in Fairfax County, who rolled out Finance Park three years ago. Daniell said some middle school teachers will visit the Discovery Center soon to ask questions about curriculum, and how the model fits in their classroom.
In May, students will visit.
“We’re going to determine where it fits and how we can blend it in, so it’s not just a field trip, that it’s embedded across the curriculum,” Daniell said.
Junior Achievement also gives tests before and after the simulation, and tracks data such as the percentage of students who complete a budget.
Gwinnett is expected to have 36 storefronts, and 150 students.
In Finance Park, students are given a life profile that includes a job, annual income, marriage or single status and asked to manage that profile when purchasing items and growing a family, such as how to buy a car, or rent or buy a house.
“A whole adult persona that they’re taking on for the day,” said Jack Harris, President of Junior Achievement of Georgia. “They have to figure out what their net monthly income is after the gross income. To go through that initial shock value. Halfway through the day, they realize that after all the things they want, they have to figure out their needs first.”
That follows 18 lessons of classroom curriculum that’s based on personal finance literacy and budgeting.
“There’s a deep message tied to the value of education to career opportunities afterward,” Harris said. “They all have options, so if they take the highest option available in housing, the highest option available in car, in Falcons suite, they’re going to bust their budget.”
In BizTown, they act as a Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, or other professional position, or possibly in a civic position as mayor.
In Gwinnett, eighth-graders will experience Finance Park, while Daniell said the district is leaning toward BizTown for sixth-graders.
“Our vision is how we would bring this type of learning and concepts to all students in Georgia,” Harris said. “To have the largest school system in Georgia come on in the timeframe that it is, is huge, it’s a big deal.”