NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Middle Tennessee State University now has a noticeable presence inside the Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee’s newest contribution to teaching Middle Tennessee secondary school students about financial literacy.
Junior Achievement, a volunteer-driven organization that provides programs focused on work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills, hosted a grand opening Tuesday afternoon of the JA Finance Park, a state-of-the-art program that will serve seventh- through 12th-grade students across Middle Tennessee and is the organization’s first such venture in the state.
Located inside Junior Achievement’s facility on Powell Place in Nashville, the roughly 8,000-square-foot park incorporates hands-on classroom activities along with a real-world simulation, providing students with a solid foundation for making intelligent personal finance decisions throughout their lives.
MTSU represents the higher education portion of the finance park simulation in the form of an MTSU-branded room funded by longtime JA board member Pam Wright, an MTSU alumna, Board of Trustee member and founder of Wright Travel. Students in the program will use the room as part of the capstone simulation to assess the costs of higher education and how it affects their personal budgets and financial situation.
“I believe it’s an incredible opportunity to reach kids at a very young age and to show them what the business world is about, and of course the financial literacy piece is extremely important,” said Wright, who participated in Junior Achievement when she was in high school. She already supports JA’s BizTown program, which targets fourth- through sixth-graders and is currently offered to all Williamson County Schools students.
“The reason I wanted to pursue this JA Finance Park partnership through MTSU and join them with Junior Achievement is that it’s a beautiful segue from students getting exposed to some of the ideas to having the opportunity to be introduced to a great university like MTSU that can train them how to make that vision as a child happen,” she said.
Students from Davidson, Rutherford and Williamson counties were on hand Tuesday to officially open the new JA Finance Park along with representatives from the numerous businesses and organizations who sponsored development of the park such as presenting sponsor SunTrust Foundation (transitioning to Truist Foundation) and other major sponsors such as MTSU, Jackson, Regions Bank, Ingram Industries and Tennessee Valley Authority, to name a few.
Sixth-grader Kyle Carter from Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro was among several JA students who helped emcee the grand opening program, giving testimonials about how their involvement with JA has enhanced their educations and helping with tours of the facility afterward.
Dressed in a blazer and bowtie, Carter said Junior Achievement gives students “a wide variety of options so we can open our eyes to what we want to do or know what we needed to do. Or where people aren’t scared of what a credit score means. Here, you know what a credit score means.”
Financial literacy has been a big eye-opener for him, he said.
“You can learn about money, and it’s not that hard to know about money. Before I was at JA, I spent my money on things I hadn’t saved up for and that I didn’t know much about,” he said. “With JA, it taught me to research and save for things and not just spend my money on random things.”
Jennifer Galligan, senior development and marketing manager for Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee, said the finance park concept is the fastest growing JA program across the nation. Galligan estimates that the JA Finance Park in Nashville will reach roughly 2,500 this academic year with a goal to reach up to 10,000 students annually going forward.
“This remarkable opportunity reinforces MTSU’s role as the No. 1 university serving Greater Nashville,” said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee. “Thousands of students going through this program will see their future in higher education through the lens of what MTSU offers through our academic programs and campus life.”
The program, which includes a $15 per student fee, includes four to six weeks of classroom instruction by educators that JA has trained and provided curriculum packets. Students then transition to the Junior Achievement site for a roughly four-hour lesson through the simulation followed by a debriefing session back in the classroom.
MTSU’s presence in the simulation program demonstrates not only the importance of higher education in a student’s life goals, but also how pursuit of an advanced education affects their personal budget and financial options to seek their college degrees. The room features images of and information about the MTSU Science Building and other popular programs such as aerospace, business and mechatronics as well as a video about the Blue Raider campus.
“We are always trying to show students that there is a path for them, so we’re excited to be able to highlight MTSU because it’s such a great educational institution, with so many paths and opportunities that students have available to them there,” said Galligan, who noted that JA seeks sponsorships for those needing financial assistance to participate in the program.
Junior Achievement’s mission is to “prepare students to succeed in the global economy,” Galligan added, and works with school districts as well as individual teachers, parents and community volunteers to get students enrolled.
The organization, which emphasizes experiential learning through its network of volunteer instructors, has programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade and reaches approximately 38,000 students in a 22-county impact area in the Midstate in public, private and homeschool settings.
For more information about Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee or to apply, visit https://www.juniorachievement.org/.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)