By Al Higgins

We often hear that high schools need to incorporate money management into the curriculum. We are told that today’s youth are unaware of the dangers associated with compound interest and the misuse of credit cards and most don’t know how to balance a checkbook. There is an organization on the Eastern Shore that is working to help students understand real world finance and employment opportunities.

Junior Achievement (JA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship to kids.

Lisa Thornton, a Delmarva native, is the development manager for JA in Salisbury.

“Junior Achievement has been in existence since 1919 and was formed on the Eastern Shore in the 1980’s,” Thornton said. “Each school’s curriculum is set by the state and volunteers from JA interact with the state to bring their field of expertise to the schools. The program touches all grades, K–12, and by the seventh grade students have a firm grasp of money and money management.”

“Last year, 231 volunteers worked with 11,000 area kids on subjects ranging from banking to purchasing a car and the importance of nonprofits. The whole spectrum of business is discussed as well as specific career opportunities. Each year, eighth graders on Delmarva are bused to the Ocean City Conference Center for a day to learn about specific careers. Approximately 160 business leaders are involved to provide the kids with information regarding colleges, apprentice programs, various trades, banking and other specific employment opportunities. It’s important for the students to learn more about areas in which they may have an interest. For example, a student who is interested in medicine should take as many science classes as possible; while those with an interest in engineering will learn the importance of getting a strong background in math.”

“Students who think all plumbers do is unplug toilets will be surprised to learn that strong skills in math and physics are essential and those looking to pursue a career in building will certainly benefit from courses in mechanical drawing and math. These are but a few examples of the information that will be passed on to students who attend,” Thornton said.

Junior Achievement will only succeed if it has strong support from the business community. As with most non-profits, funding is at a premium and all donations are welcomed and put to good use. Additionally, volunteers from the business community are essential. Volunteers agree to teach 45 minutes a day for five days, or for one 2.5 hour class. JA provides the curriculum.

JA is a perfect opportunity for the business community to interact with today’s youth and in a positive manner. The lessons taught by a professional, one who knows the ins and outs of a particular business or trade, are invaluable to students.