Juniors Practice Business Skills During Hands-on Activities at JA Real Life Day

Junior Achievement and parent volunteers led eleventh-grade students in resume building, interview practice, and budgeting for the revival of Real Life Days. 

“It’s all hands on learning about something that’s real life,” Business Teacher and Real Life Coordinator Mrs. Sherry Cleary said. “That’s the whole name of the game, literally.”

Throughout the day, juniors rotated stations led by student and parent volunteers. 

“We did really cool activities where we got to learn about personal finance and business going into the future,” Junior Kendi Smith said about the day. 

Each junior spent two hours in a group of eight or less students led by a community member guiding their budgeting process. 

“They have debt. They have a salary, and they have to work through creating a budget,” JA Real Life Director Kristin Coolsen said. “They work on making decisions that they actually have to do when they are adults.” 

Kristin Coolsen originally joined JA as a volunteer because she felt passionately about the hands-on learning experiences at JA Biztown and STEM Summit. 

“I loved volunteering with my kids when they had it in their schools,” Coolsen said. “And when the opportunity came, I took it. I was doing one day staff, and now I am the director.” 

As the director of Real Life, Kristin Coolsen oversees the hands-on activities throughout the day. Real Life is a tactile learning opportunity that expands on the mandatory curriculum from personal finance. 

“We do a whole budgeting unit in personal finance,” Mrs. Cleary said. “This is an extension of that.” 

While in a small group, a parent volunteer assigned each junior an occupation and led them to budget accordingly. 

“We bring in volunteers, so they get engaged with the students and give them their personal experiences,” Kristin Coolsen said. 

Smith enjoyed the time she spent with her community volunteer. 

“He shared what he did as his job, and his personal experiences in his life,” Smith said. “We had to find out our monthly income and our salaries, so it really helps determine what you want to do.”

Regardless of their initial occupation, community volunteers teach students how vital budgeting is to leading a financially stable life.

“Sometimes the doctors actually do worse financially than what the fast food worker does because of the choices they made,” Mrs. Cleary said. “In order to be financially successful, you need to know how to budget your money.”

Student volunteers led the game stations where juniors learned about budgeting, self-actualization, and interviewing. While playing the JA version of Life called #adulting, students learned more about the budgeting process in a competitive environment. 

“It’s a pretty good experience,” #adulting student volunteer and aspiring business owner Tyree Spence said. “I’m learning myself how to guide people.” 

Within the first two hours of Real Life, Spence witnessed a college student making over $100,000 and retirees falling deeply into debt. “It’s ups and downs,” Spence said. “But overall, even with debt, I feel like they’re still enjoying it. They still have a fun learning experience.”

Through the budgeting exercises, resume writing aid, and educational games, students generally respond positively to Real Life Day. 

“Even students that may not necessarily be engaged in a typical classroom have a tendency to come out of their shell a little bit,” Mrs. Cleary said. “I get emails from parents telling me that their kid never talks about school, but they told me about this day.” 

“I think it was cool. It’s good for everybody to have that experience,” Smith said. “I like that the school brought this out.”

While having fun, students learned lifelong valuable lessons.

“For anyone to be financially successful, you need to know how to budget your money,” Mrs. Cleary said. “This is something I truly believe in.”

By Shana Carey


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