JA and Truett Cathy Foundation plan Finance Park, BizTown at GWCC

By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 20, 2012

Junior Achievement of Georgia Inc. is considering locating two hallmark programs — a JA Finance Park and a JA Biz Town — at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Both programs will be interactive simulation centers that will enhance the financial literacy and work readiness skills of metro Atlanta’s middle school students.

The JA financial literacy centers would be located in the GWCC’s Building C along Northside Drive. The JA proposal will be presented at the GWCC Authority board meeting on April 24, and the JA of Georgia board is expected to review the plans at a meeting in May.

Another partner in the project is the S. Truett Cathy Foundation, established by the founder of Chick-fil-A Inc. The foundation has agreed to underwrite the pre-planning, operating and space costs to launch the new JA initiatives.

“We are incredibly grateful for the investment of the S. Truett Cathy Foundation in this project,” said Jack Harris, president of JA of Georgia. “And we are excited about creating a world-class, showcase experience for metro Atlanta youth and the entire community.”

At the same time, JA is in “exploratory” conversations with local school systems to create a formal relationship with the two JA programs. It is expected that the simulation programs will impact 30,000 metro students each year.

“Our goal is for every metro Atlanta student during their middle school experience would be part of this,” Harris said. “JA is working with local school systems to align the JA Finance Park and JA BizTown curriculum to Georgia Performance Standards and the new Common Core Standards in order to deliver this educational experience as part of the core curriculum for all middle grade students.”

Nationally, Junior Achievement already has established 25 JA Finance Parks and JA BizTowns in communities across the country.

But the “showcase and flagship” location at the GWCC would be “a notch above what’s being offered at the other 25 locations,” Harris said. “What would be a bit different is that we look at this as a statewide vision with multiple locations.”

As currently envisioned, students will receive four weeks of classroom curriculum provided by JA. That will be followed by a one-day visit to either the JA Finance Park or the JA BizTown simulation centers.

The JA Finance Park will cater to eighth graders, where students will be assigned a unique life situation of their job, income and family scenario. During the day, each student will have to make 18 “real life” decisions on how to live within their means.

The JA BizTown will cater to sixth graders. Each will be given a job in the town — to be a banker or a retailer or mayor, and then they would play out their particular roles during the day.

Both JA Finance Park and JA Biz Town will be designed as interactive marketplaces reflecting the local business community, including banks, media, telecommunications, utilities, retail, manufacturing and restaurants. The educational simulation centers will have the latest in technology to give students a stimulating hands-on experience.

JA of Georgia had explored the possibility of locating a JA Finance Park and JA BizTown as part of a Truett Cathy Youth and Community Center that would have been located on the Morris Brown College campus.

Although the negotiations with Morris Brown fell through, Chick-fil-A officials have said they are still interested in developing a youth center in the central city that honors their founder — Truett Cathy.

Harris said the GWCC location is ideal to be the “epicenter” for the new JA venture. JA had wanted a location in downtown Atlanta that would be convenient to school systems throughout the metro area.

Frank Poe, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, said in an email that the convention center has had “extensive conversations” with JA of Georgia “to determine if a business plan was feasible.”

Poe said the arrangement made sense because GWCC has 3.9 million square feet available for lease. Also the convention center “has aligned itself in a number of community outreach programs” as a way of making a contribution.

“JA will utilize the space for their programs, much like any group would that we rent space to,” Poe said. “We look at this potential partnership as an opportunity to rent space and help give back to the community.”

If the proposal for a long-term lease receives the needed approval from the GWCC board, JA of Georgia plans to launch a marketing and fundraising campaign this summer. It plans to open the facility in time for the 2013-2014 school year.

Junior Achievement’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.

JA currently works with more than 300 schools in metro Atlanta and with more than 5,000 volunteers from the business community.

The two new simulation centers will give JA an opportunity to expand its educational offerings to middle school students by providing new ways to empower young people to achieve economic success.

“It’s really exciting,” Harris said. “It creates a tremendous opportunity for our community and city.”

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