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Students learn about the real world at 'mini city' in Bay Park

Kids run simulated businesses for a day at JA BizTown

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Rancho San Diego Elementary School students work on their business plan during their JA BizTown visit. Courtesy photo

Parents expect their children to learn math and reading skills as part of their basic education. Children study the humanities, science, art, and participate in health and fitness education.

While math and reading skills remain the focus of our educational efforts, there is a realization that financial education as well as business literacy must be integrated into a modern learning framework, starting at an early age.

Young people interact with financial services at an ever-earlier age. Forget being handed a few dollars as an allowance. Kids learn to use credit and banking services via mobile phones. They spend money on games and download music via technology without realizing the consequences of running up a tab they can’t see and sometimes don’t understand.

San Diego City Councilmember Scott Sherman (right), and Katie Hansen, ABC San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust Community Affairs Director (left), volunteer at the ABC JA BizTown storefront

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

This is where the McGrath Family's JA BizTown program steps in and proves so vital to the economic growth and prosperity of 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 moved into BizTown with its own storefront earlier this year. The workspace features a workbench, sets of tools, safety equipment including vests and hardhats, and a desk and computer where office management takes place.

During visits to JA BizTown, fifth-graders 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, such as buying supplies, issuing invoices and producing paychecks.

Students apply and interview for jobs several weeks before they arrive at JA BizTown. They study a curriculum teaching them about business and employment.

The 4.5-hour simulation includes two town hall meetings and three business meetings in the shops. There is a mayor and a judge, both elected among the students visiting JA BizTown each day. Jobs include sales, accountants, business managers, medical professionals, TV reporters, and skilled construction craft professionals.

ABC’s JA BizTown construction shop gives students the opportunity to complete a hands-on plumbing project assembling the pipes for a bathroom sink and two electrical projects -- wiring a doorbell and LED lights. Instructors provide supervision and assistance, but the students themselves read and discuss the instructions, select their tools, and practice good safety procedures throughout.

“We want to encourage students who have a talent for building things and problem-solving to consider the construction industry as a career path,” said Katie Hansen, ABC San Diego Community Affairs Director. “We teach them it’s about a lot more than just figuring out how to build something, it also includes design, management, training and safety. It uses all the math and reading skills they are learning in school. It’s a career for girls as well as boys.”

JA BizTown’s business owners leave students with a sense of the many possible career opportunities open to them, and how to plan their education now to be prepared to pursue a job that interests them and uses their skills.

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, successfully bridging the financial and business literacy gap. For more information about Junior Achievement of San Diego, visit jasandiego.org.

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