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BizTown, ABC San Diego reach out to kids

During this recovery from America’s recent recession, financial education and business literacy have gained recognition as critically important life skills. While math and reading skills remain the focus of our educational efforts, there is a realization that financial education must be integrated into a modern learning framework, starting at an early age.

Young people learn to interact with financial services at an ever-earlier age. Spending now goes far beyond pocket money from an allowance. Kids learn to use credit and banking services via mobile phones, making purchases via technology without realizing the consequences of running up a tab they can’t see and sometimes don’t understand.

Most recent surveys show low levels of financial literacy among youth, lower than in previous generations, according to the International Network for Financial Education. But the successful addition of financial education in an already taxed school curriculum is challenging in many respects: lack of time, lack of funding, lack of materials and sufficient expertise, lack of overall accountability.

This is where Junior Achievement’s BizTown program steps in and proves so vital to economic growth and prosperity in our region. JA BizTown is a two-story, 10,000-square-foot mini-city made up of 19 storefronts representing real and familiar San Diego businesses and organizations. Each storefront displays the logo and brings the business to life for the students.

Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego runs the newest BizTown storefront. ABC San Diego and Junior Achievement held a formal ribbon-cutting for the new BizTown display last week with special guest Clint August, on-air host of “The Home Pro Show” on KOGO AM Radio and afternoon host of 101KGB Radio.

During visits to BizTown, fifth-grade students from throughout San Diego County explore different types of workplaces and the different types of jobs performed in those workplaces. They also learn basic economic principles.

Students apply and interview for jobs before they arrive at BizTown. Each student gets “hired,” works, earns a paycheck and manages a checking account. The 4.5-hour simulation also includes two town hall meetings and three business meetings in the shops. There is even a mayor, elected from the students visiting BizTown each day. Jobs include sales, accountants, business managers, medical professionals, TV reporters and skilled construction craft professionals.

ABC’s BizTown construction shop lets students complete a supervised hands-on plumbing or electrical project. They learn that safety comes first, donning hard hats and safety vests long before the work begins.

ABC hopes to plant a seed that will encourage students who have a talent for building things and solving problems to consider the construction industry, or perhaps civil engineering, architecture or computer-aided design. ABC also introduces students to an alternative career education path offered through apprenticeship.

All of BizTown’s business owners want to leave students with a sense of the many possible career opportunities open to them, and an understanding of how the skills they are learning in school every day will help them be successful in their chosen field.

About 150 schools throughout San Diego County participate in the program each year. Annually, the organization reaches almost 14,000 students through BizTown and 50,000 students through its other programs.

Junior Achievement is a nonprofit organization supported through community support, successfully bridging the financial and business literacy gap. For more information about Junior Achievement of San Diego, visit www.jasandiego.org.

Smyth is chief financial officer of Sherwood Mechanical and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust board of trustees. For more information visit www.abcsd.org

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