Junior Achievement gains stripes, bars support

By Staff Sgt. Amber Ashcraft 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

"Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand." The Chinese proverb has many variations repeated by many societies but the message still remains the same; an individual must be taught something in order to retain the skill.

A world-wide program is dedicated to doing just that for school children and teens, and Barksdale Airmen are contributing to the lesson.

The Junior Achievement program is the world's largest organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs, according to the JA website, www.JA.org.

"Our mission is to empower young people to own their economic success," said Nita Cook, president of JA of North Louisiana. "American's moxy is entrepreneurship. Locally, we have 5,000 students from Kindergarten to 12th grade enrolled in Junior Achievement and it's contributing to the vitality of the community."

Barksdale Airmen from the First Four Airman's Association and the Company Grade Officers Council will be volunteering with the Shreveport/Bossier JA starting in the fall.

"I attended the first annual JA Empowers Luncheon to get an in depth view of their program," said Senior Airman Chet Long, F4AA president. "I sat and listened to the local school district's staff and the children who were emphatic as to how the program had helped them so far. I also spoke with Airmen who had previously volunteered and witnessed dozens of local businesses stand behind the movement. I immediately saw what an incredible organization JA is and how it's impacting the youth of our surrounding community."

To fulfill the JA mission, the organization partners community volunteers with teachers in grades K-12 to implement curriculum focusing on three key content areas: entrepreneurship, financial literacy and workplace readiness.

"The curriculum is comprised of quality workshop-model lesson plans with clearly stated student learning objectives," said Cook. "The JA volunteers will be responsible for leading the class through a number of learning activities. Our volunteers receive their teaching packets and guides prior to actually entering the classroom, so they are able to become familiar and comfortable with the material."

The JA curriculum is designed to promote students' thinking through engagement in discussions, and the takeaway is exponential.

"Over the last year of volunteering with JA, I've been able to witness firsthand the impacts the program has in regards to the levels of comprehension in the students," said Senior Airman Luke Higgins, 2nd Munitions Squadron and JA volunteer. "Kindergartners talked about saving money to invest in the economy like their parents do. Fifth graders made connections with their influences in today's world markets and eighth graders developed skills furthering their knowledge and abilities to become successful in the future economy."

The children are not the only ones benefiting from the JA program; the benefit Airmen receive is just as poignant.

"Watching the student's learning curve grow and the excitement in the classroom involvement was a rewarding experience for me," said Higgins. "I feel it is important to bring professionals into the classroom from different career fields so students can relate to opportunities in today's job market. I myself have considered a career in education after serving in the Air Force, and working with Junior Achievement has given me insight into our modern day education system."

The F4AA invited Cook to a general meeting to give the Airmen a detailed look at what JA entails and what it's like to be a volunteer. When the meeting was brought to a close, more than half of the Airmen present wished to volunteer.

"I was awed to see so many selfless Airmen stand up, willing to assist with this great program," said Long.

The F4AA and CGOC are partnering to gather as many volunteers as possible to help educate the students of Shreveport/Bossier on the importance of financial literacy.

"Our Airmen are not only going to have a great time volunteering, they will also gain important presentation and speaking skills as well as possibly learn something more about money themselves," said 1st Lt. Jennifer Barkenhagen, CGOC volunteering co-chair. "Involvement with this program will further advocate and advertise the successes of JA as well as Barksdale's commitment to the community in Shreveport and Bossier City."

Cook believes Barksdale Airmen volunteering will have a significant impact on the local students.

"Middle School is the pivotal point when a child decides whether to stay in school or not," said Cook. "These kids need to have a good role model to stay in school, and I believe the Airmen will be just that."

Airmen who wish to volunteer with JA may contact the F4AA at barksdale.f4aa@us.af.mil. Officers looking to volunteer may contact 1st Lt. Barkenhagen at 456-4578. For additional information about the Junior Achievement program, contact Nita Cook at nita.cook@janla.org or visit www.ja.org.