Junior Achievement: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

It seemed appropriate that this week’s topic be about the old and the new since we are bringing in a new year at the end of the week. This is a tale about an economic education program that came to Arkansas in 1987 and to Conway shortly thereafter. It is also a tale about the return of JA Company Program to Conway High.

Junior Achievement (JA), a non-profit economic education organization, was founded in 1919 by Theodore Vail, President of AT&T; Horace Moses, President of Strathmore Paper Company; and Sen. Murray Crane of Massachusetts. Its first program, JA Company Program, was offered to high school students as an after-school program. Over the last 39 years, JA has expanded its programs and broadened its scope to include in-school programs for all ages.

Junior Achievement USA is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado but has 109 area offices in all 50 states that serve more than 4.8 million students. JA Worldwide has over 100 member countries and has reached over 100 million students since it began in 1919. Using business volunteers, JA’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.

I became acquainted with JA when an area office was set up in Arkansas in 1987. In 1991, as the Conway High economics teacher, I invited JA into my classroom. I began teaching JA Economics, an activity-based curriculum, while each week Acxiom and Kimberly Clark volunteers came to my classroom to facilitate JA Management and Economic Simulation Exercise (MESE).

My first volunteer was Marv Komerovsky, Kimberly Clark’s plant manager. Each week, he led the students through JA MESE, a business strategy simulation in which students made decisions that impacted their market share in a fictitious industry. Today, it is an online strategy simulation called JA Titan.

The other JA program introduced in 1991 was JA Company Program. Each semester, the students organized themselves into a company that wrote a business plan, sold stock, developed a product and then marketed that product. Over the years, the student company, Wampus Cat JA, became known for developing and marketing Wampus Cat products such as senior class shirts and Wampus Cat t-shirts and hoodies.

The student companies produced senior class shirts with all the graduates’ names on the shirts until 2003 when the senior classes became too large to fit on a screen. The companies continued to produce Wampus Cat t-shirts, hoodies and other spirit products until 2012 when the program was eliminated due to curriculum changes.

Junior Achievement has updated its programs through the years to reflect a changing economy as well as changes in technology. While the 1991 JA programs utilized a 3.5-inch floppy disc, by 2012, the technology had evolved from VHS to DVDs. Many programs were also becoming web-based.

The delivery methods for JA programs have also changed in recent years. While volunteers used to visit elementary classrooms once a week to deliver age-appropriate economics curriculum, volunteers now often come into the schools for JA in a Day, a whole-day of enriching economics activities usually taught to an entire grade level of students.

JA Company Program has also received a makeover. This fall, a team of business volunteers introduced the new format to students in Lizzie Wells’ two Entrepreneurship classes at the Conway Area Career Center. Students and volunteers began using the new interactive online learning platform in October.

The volunteers include a vast array of expertise. They are Donnie Dietz, Edward Jones; Steve Sumner, Southwestern Energy; Amy Porter and Dana Robbins, Inuvo; Perry Turner, AT&T; Nick Schroeder, Frost PLLC; Drew Spurgers, Kangabloo Creative; and Grant Gordy. Several of the volunteers are Conway alumni—Nick Schroeder was even president of his JA student company. His student company still holds the record for second-highest sales in the history of Wampus Cat JA.

Volunteers came into the Entrepreneurship classes once a week to conduct the first five business meetings but starting with the sixth meeting, the students began conducting the weekly status meetings themselves. Students are again producing senior shirts and Wampus Cat spirit shirts while learning a whole lot about starting and running a business.

I am also back in the classroom coordinating and collaborating with the volunteers who are teaching JA Company Program. Teaching this curriculum and facilitating these student companies has re-ignited my passion and it is now igniting the passion in a whole new generation of students and volunteers.

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