Last week I volunteered to teach entrepreneurship to a middle school class. When I told my daughter–a middle schooler herself–what I was doing, she just smiled and said, “Good luck with that, Mom.”
I had been invited by financial planner Joe Downs to volunteer with Junior Achievement, an organization that brings volunteers into schools to teach financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Joe was so jazzed about his experiences with JA that I couldn’t possibly say no.
When my time finally came to lead a class, though, I’ll confess I was probably more anxious about stepping in front of that classroom than I have been speaking to large audiences. So like my colleague Farnoosh Torabi, who recently spoke to a group of high school students, I brought lots of candy. Just in case.
[Related Article: Financial Time-Out With High School Students]
JA prepared us well, though, with a detailed curriculum to follow, handouts and activities to follow. I did very little lecturing. Instead we played games, like a version of Jeopardy where the students tried to guess famous business people from clues. They loved the game, but had a hard time guessing some of the featured entrepreneurs, many of whom were my generation or older. “Colonel Sanders? Who’s that?”
They even gave me a blank look when another teacher mentioned Donald Trump. They had no idea he had recently talked about running for president, but a few did recognize his name when I mentioned his television show, The Apprentice.
There were several times the students surprised me with their small business savvy. Some knew, for example, that putting a pool, trampolines and a hot tub into the teen center they were designing would mean higher insurance and additional risk. And one group remembered to add an emergency exit to the floor plan.
They thought a social entrepreneur was someone who uses Facebook and other social networking sites. Who would blame them? When given the opportunity to design a business to help others in their community, though, they came up with creative responses, including a campaign to turn an abandoned lot into a park for teen moms.
The other volunteers that day included lawyers, bankers and business owners. Some were rookies like me, while others regularly teach these classes at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I learned later from the JA website that we were part of a group of 382,637 Junior Achievement volunteers who teach 403,849 classes to 9,866,143 students a year. That’s 27,030 students a day and nearly 1,126 students every hour who become empowered to own their economic success.
Despite my trepidation, it felt terrific to take part in such a longstanding and successful program. I am often asked why kids don’t learn about money in school, and while I believe financial education should be an integral part of school’s curricula all year long, it’s good to know JA is making a difference in preparing these kids for life after school.
I hope at least a few students came away thinking about the businesses they may start someday. There’s nothing I’d like better than to be one of their first customers.