Spokane Journal of Business

Junior Achievement gears up for JA Finance Park

School program to include over 2,000 area students

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Nonprofit youth organization Junior Achievement Eastern Washington/North Idaho will partner with Spokane Public Schools in presenting middle school students with a day of hands-on experience with financial challenges they’ll likely face as adults.

This is the third year the JA Finance Park, the organization’s personal finance program, has been incorporated into Spokane Public Schools middle school curriculum, says Janet Banaugh, Junior Achievement of Washington’s Spokane-based program director for the Eastern Washington and North Idaho region.

Banaugh estimates that more than 2,000 Inland Northwest students will learn about finances in real-world simulations this fall and next spring.

She says this year, for the first time, the event will also include students from Evergreen Middle School in the Central Valley School District, and Cusick High School, located 50 miles north of Spokane. 

After completing 13 hours of classroom instruction at their respective schools, participating students visit the finance park location for a real-world experience prioritizing adult financial choices to construct a personal budget.

Once at the park, students are given an iPad and assigned an adult identity, including a job, annual household income, marital status, and family situation, to use as the basis of their budgeting experience.

Students are then paired with volunteers from the business community who counsel them throughout the day as they weigh budgeting options.

Banaugh says about 1,200 students, mostly from Spokane Public Schools, took part in the program last school year, the second year it was offered here. 

She says for the fall session, The JA Finance Park mobile unit will be set up Nov. 27 through Dec. 7 at the Shriners Event Center, at 7216 W. Westbow Boulevard.

JA Finance Park is funded largely by Junior Achievement through sponsorships and donations. Participating schools also contribute to the program.

Until recently, the program was available only to students who could travel to one of Washington’s two JA World locations in Yakima and Auburn. However, through a collaborative cross-state partnership, the technology driven mobile JA Finance Park unit is available for use in Eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

The unit used for the Spokane events is on loan from sister organization JA of Oregon & Southwest Washington. 

However, JA of Washington plans either to develop its own mobile unit or a permanent structure from which to host the event in the coming years, says JA Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho regional director Jackie Wright.

“We’re still considering which option would best meet the needs of our region,” says Wright. “We cover a lot of rural areas, so our biggest concern right now is sustainability.”

Wright says for both the fall and spring finance park events, the mobile unit will be transported here via semitrailer, and components will be assembled at the Shriner’s Event Center to simulate a business park with 8,000 square feet of interactive space.

The JA Finance Park will have 16 kiosks that correlate to 21 household budget expenses, including housing, groceries, daycare, and transportation.

“We’re really reaching out, trying to get individual high schools and middle schools to come see this event,” says Wright. “Once they do, they’re pretty enthusiastic about becoming more involved.”

Junior Achievement is an international nonprofit organization that works with businesses, schools, and other organizations to provide financial literacy, work education, and entrepreneurship programs for youths in grade school through high school. It was founded in Springfield, Mass., in 1919, and is now headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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