By: John Hancock, President & CEO, JA of Georgia

As the economy and world have shifted, so have the skills and experiences that are necessary to build a solid foundation. The next generation of leaders will be entering a workforce that is progressively more reliant on a strong collective of soft skills – things like communication, cultural agility, collaboration, and emotional intelligence. 

Only 11 percent of business leaders strongly agree that graduates have the needed skills and competencies to be successful. That leaves a large gap to fill in order to effectively prepare students for the realities they will face after they leave the classroom. How do we ensure that we are arming students with the skills they need to be successful, not just for their own well-being, but for the overall success of our communities and economy?

Junior Achievement (JA) has spent more than a century helping to build foundational skills that prepare students for their futures, and we’ve been serving Georgia students since 1949. JA is one of the largest educational nonprofits in the country and our focus has shifted along with these changes. We are intently focused on serving as a business-integrated education partner with expertise in experiential learning that successfully develops key mindsets and skills for students to lead meaningful and successful lives.

We execute on that vision through our incredible partnerships with the business and education communities; by integrating key life and career readiness skills that ignite mindset shifts like higher levels of inspiration, hope and motivation. 

We are proud to do this work regardless of a student’s background, and regardless of their socioeconomic status, geographic location, race, or past academic history. We offer students in many communities in Georgia equitable access to high-quality educational experiences.

Our physical footprint in the state is becoming more reflective of this year-after-year; we have expanded to five JA Discovery Centers, and a sixth is underway. These centers are intentionally designed to embody the communities they serve, and to serve middle school students throughout the entire community. These centers are authentic environments where middle school students connect knowledge gained in the classroom to real-world concepts, and they allow students to experience life as an adult for the day. 

JA Discovery Centers expose students to industries, companies and pathways they may have never heard of. They spend the day with an adult outside of their usual network – oftentimes someone who represents a life that they didn’t know was achievable for ‘someone like them’. These authentic experiences, that are diverse and representative of the real world, help students to explore new possibilities for their futures.

At the high school level, 3DE by Junior Achievement is redesigning high school education to expand economic opportunity for all students. The innovative case methodology approach, coupled with a focus on competencies like critical thinking and emotional intelligence allows students to develop the competencies for economic competitiveness, while increasing learning engagement and strengthening academic comprehension. The model is beneficial for all students, regardless of background, and the results speak to that – the 2020 graduation rate for 3DE students was 94 percent versus the statewide rate of 82 percent.

The overarching goal of all our programs is to set students up for success in their adult lives. Our continuum of programming – JA BizTown, JA Finance Park, and 3DE by Junior Achievement – engage students at key inflection points in their education to have the deepest impact. These programs are intentionally designed to elevate student engagement and outcomes because more prepared and experienced students have more competent and successful futures.

Building a generation that is well-rounded and positioned to thrive is important for us all.  From where we stand, the future is bright.

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