Junior Achievement teaches kids financial literacy for the real world

AUBURN, Wash. -- Nearly 80 percent of US workers say they’re living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey. Forbes Magazine says we’re in a financial literacy crisis.  That’s why a local organization is working overtime to make sure they next generation is prepared to be successful adults.

Junior Achievement of Washington prepares kids for the real world by teaching them about the economy, entrepreneurship, and budgeting.

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"Biztown Mayor" 10-year-old fifth grader Sarah Banica speaks at the podium at Junior Achievement Washington.

She might be small and just 10 years old, but fifth grader Sarah Banica is the mayor of Biztown.

“I really like leadership positions and I’m really interested in politics,” said Banica.

From mayor and deputy mayor to working at University of Washington Medicine, Chick-fil-A or a bank, students fill a variety of roles in this make-believe world. The elementary private school kids are learning life lessons right now.  CEO and President of Junior Achievement Washington Natalie Vega O’Neil says this day at Junior Achievement wraps up 13 weeks of lessons.

“They understand what goes into a business, what it means to save, what it means to invest, what it means to budget,” said Vega O’Neil.

Vega O’Neil says in most families talking about money is taboo. So, what about at school?  Life Christian School fourth grade teacher Lacey Holaday says they don’t have the time to teach these life skills, either.

“They’re learning a lot of real-world principles about business and finance that I don’t get to incorporate in my regular programs at school,” said Holaday.

It’s why she made sure her kids would be able to attend Junior Achievement and leave with a real understanding of the real world.

“They get excited about having a job and interviewing and having a paycheck and they feel like they can buy whatever they want to,” said Holaday.

The kids learn how to write checks, be responsible, and keep their businesses running.

“We know that money is a very emotional topic.  So, what we try to do is demystify money,” said Vega O’Neil.

In middle and high school, kids graduate from Biztown to Finance Park where the go from learning how to run a city to creating a budget and learning to live within it.

Finance Park & Experiential Programs Manager Dawn Parsons says the whole experience can be an eye-opener.

“They realize, oh wow I don’t have enough money for a cell phone but I have to have a cell phone so I need to spend less of dining out,” said Parsons.

Parent volunteers like Marvia Jones-Ross help to guide her daughter Maria and other students.

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Bethel Middle School parent Marvia Jones-Ross helps her daughter and other students have better financial literacy while working with mock personal budgets.

“A lot of girls in my group were talking about they want to save for the newest phone or latest Jordans or shoes and I was like there’s more to life,” said Jones-Ross.

If the kids learn those lessons now, they might avoid the same pitfalls Marvia had to overcome.

“My freshman year in college I opened up five credit cards because there were people at my campus who said you fill this out and you get a mug and I was like yeah!  And now I’m like, what the heck was I thinking?” asked Jones-Ross.

If there’s one big takeaway, Vega O’Neil says kids need to be challenged and they can handle it.

“We absolutely underestimate kids,” said Vega O’Neil.

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