JA Finance Park Prepares Kids for Real Life
Junior Achievement Finance Park teaches students life lessons about making decisions while staying within a specified budget.
Taking financial literacy from the classroom to the real world is the goal of JA Finance Park®, a month-long program from Junior Achievement that helps students learn to make intelligent financial choices that last a lifetime. After 12 classroom lessons on subjects like budgeting, understanding credit scores, and investing, 8th-graders in Southern Nevada attend an all-day experience where they put those lessons to work.
JA Finance Park provides students with essential financial education skills via a small-scale mock city. Through interactive simulations, Clark County School District students, assisted by their teachers and more than 300 trained volunteers, experience the challenges of making financial decisions while staying within a specified budget.
In a survey of nearly 7,000 high school seniors polled on their knowledge of financial basics, the average score was just 48.3 percent. These findings demonstrate that young people need more information about managing their finances before they leave school and enter the adult world. In response, the Finance Park program was developed by JA Worldwide®, Capital One Financial Corporation, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
This is the fourth year the local JA chapter has held Finance Park. About 4,000 CCSD students, most from lower-income neighborhoods, will participate in the program this year, according to Michelle Jackson, President of Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada, Inc. Although the program is designed for students from 8th through 12th grade, her organization decided to focus on 8th graders. “We want to catch kids before they start their high school career,” Jackson explained. “We think the program will encourage them to make better decisions in high school.”
After completing the classroom lessons at their schools, about 100 students per day are bussed to the Las Vegas Library downtown, where they attend a day-long session to give them a practical understanding of the economic issues they might deal with upon graduation from high school. The sessions at the library will begin this year on October 12 and run every school day for 40 days, until students leave for Christmas vacation on December 16.
Upon arrival at the Park, each student is given a tablet to work with. A program on the tablet randomly assigns the student a “life situation,” including a job, a monthly income, family size, and taxes to be paid. Students then visit kiosks to research prices for the things they want to buy, and begin to work on their budget. They must make decisions about housing, furnishings, investments, food, entertainment, phone, cable, charitable contributions—all the decisions they will make when entering the workforce. They must allocate part of their income to savings, and decide how to invest it. Each student must also apply for a mortgage and a car loan. After spending their money with “debit cards” or “online” at the kiosks, students must have money left over, and their checkbook must balance.
“For most students, Finance Park is a reality check,” said Jackson. “They see what it’s like to have a budget and to provide for a family. Students who didn’t value high school graduation before they went through the program now see how education affects salary levels. After going through Finance Park, many of them say, ‘I guess I do need to go college or trade school.’”
The equipment, furnishings, and materials for JA Finance Park are provided by the national JA organization, which trucks everything to Las Vegas from St. Louis. The southern Nevada chapter must raise money to pay for rental costs, installation, and operation of Finance Park, which Jackson estimates will cost close to $150,000 this year. They are raising funds by selling various levels of sponsorships to local businesses, including sponsoring kiosks.
Volunteers from local businesses and non-profit groups assist students as they visit the kiosks and work on their budgets. Jackson said they need 20 volunteers for each of the 40 days the Park is in operation.
“Junior Achievement is in the business of better futures,” she said. “JA's programs focus on three pillars: financial literacy (how to be smart with your money and credit); how to be ready to join the workforce; and how to think like an entrepreneur/business person. At an even deeper level, JA programs tie what kids are learning in the classroom back to their future and inspire them to dream about who they will become. Finance Park is an important part of this process.”
For more information about sponsorship or volunteering at Finance Park, or to arrange a visit to the Finance Park location, please contact the JA office at 702-214-0500.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.