It is important for students to learn the academic arts of reading, writing, history, math and science, but beyond that, schools also have to figure out how to teach real-world skills related to money and careers.
Junior Achievement is one program that helps schools address that need. The national organization works to bring community volunteers into the classroom to teach lessons on how to generate and manage wealth, create jobs and apply entrepreneurial thinking.
The program has been growing in Callaway County for several years. This spring, Westminster College education students began teaching Junior Achievement lessons in all three Fulton elementary schools — McIntire, Bush and Bartley.
Westminster assistant professor Tami Ensor and Fulton Public Schools assistant superintendent Chris Hubbuch described the effort as a pilot program with the potential of continuing or expanding in the future.
Before coming to Westminster, Ensor taught in Columbia Public Schools, a district that has widely adopted the Junior Achievement program, with community members volunteering their time.
"The whole premise is to involve the community, schools, teachers and students, all working together to teach financial literacy," Ensor said.
Junior Achievement of Great St. Louis vice president of programs and district operations Annette McClellan said the JA curriculum varies by age. While first-grade students might learn about jobs in their communities, fourth-graders might learn about entrepreneurship.
"Our goal is to teach them real-world skills so they are better prepared for the future," McClellan said.
When she moved to higher education, Ensor didn't want to forget Junior Achievement.
"I had the idea, what if we use our pre-service teachers in addition to community members?" Ensor said.
Working with FPS administration last year, Ensor hoped her Westminster students could themselves teach the Junior Achievement lessons in the classrooms they enter before becoming student teachers. The Fulton schools were interested, but when the pandemic sent the K-12 and Westminster students home, the effort was halted in spring 2020.
This spring, they were able to get the effort back off the ground. As a part of their education, the Westminster students will give five lessons this semester to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students.
"Junior Achievement has a reputation across the state of having a really quality program and the financial literacy lessons they provide support the Missouri learning standards," Hubbuch said.
The partnership allows Fulton elementary students access to the lessons and Westminster students teaching experience.
"What we're trying to do at Westminster is to make it as much as possible a hands-on and practical experience," Ensor said.
After this semester, Westminster and FPS will evaluate the effort.
"We're going to need to know from classroom teachers, what do we need to do differently? Did this work for you?" Ensor said.
FPS will want to know if the program can be extended to reach every student of a grade-level cohort. Currently, the Westminster and FPS partnership has brought JA lessons to McIntire fourth-graders, Bartley third- and fourth-graders, and Bush fourth- and fifth-graders.
"We really want to make sure all our elementary students of that grade level have access," Hubbuch said.
He said JA offers classrooms the opportunity to examine financial literacy in more detail than they might otherwise.
"It's a great way to really focus on some of these standards that maybe don't always get covered with such depth," Hubbuch said.
In the Columbia and Callaway County area, Junior Achievement is being taught in more than 100 classrooms, including in Fulton Public Schools and South Callaway R-2 School District.
Debbie LaRue, executive director of the Callaway Kids Bank, is especially excited about the Junior Achievement program and the push to teach financial literacy to young learners.
The Callaway Kids Bank aims to help children save money. Its board includes students from each public high school in Callaway County, and has in the past also included students from Missouri School for the Deaf.
Each year, though not last year due to the pandemic, the board volunteers at JA BizTown, a mini-city in Chesterfield that welcomes fifth- and sixth-grade students for field trips. There, students spend the day working for a business, making financial decisions, paying taxes and donating to charity, putting their JA lessons to the test.
LaRue characterized the opportunity as "magnificent," for the fifth- and sixth-graders as well as the Kids Bank volunteers.
"It's heartwarming because I know that for the students that are having the opportunity to participate, these are lifelong skills that will help them be successful someday, as well as happy," LaRue said.