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May 1, 2023 Other Voices

Reinventing Junior Achievement: A strategic plan to better prepare CT’s future leaders

Jeremy Race


That is our aim at Junior Achievement of Southwest New England — to have an impact on young lives by encouraging entrepreneurship, enhancing education, helping young people realize their own talents and potential, and connecting individuals established in their careers with students on the threshold of theirs.

In the past, like many organizations, we have spent a good deal of our time highlighting our impressive numbers. More recently, we have realized that if we are to truly change lives — particularly in the aftermath of COVID and a changed workplace — it is not about how many, it is about how much.

How much of a difference can we make in young lives; how much can young people develop their own goals and confidence; how much more of their potential can be realized and recognized — first by themselves, and then by others they encounter as they embark on career paths.

To achieve these objectives, we need to reach further, aspire higher and innovate along the way. We need to build on JA’s proven track record of scaling major workforce readiness initiatives, and accelerate efforts to provide students with the tools they’ll need to better navigate their future and influence the trajectory of their lives, families and communities.

We have embarked on that journey enthusiastically, and we are doing so with intensified partnerships, new collaborators and invigorated volunteers who will be on the frontlines extending their expertise and commitment to students.

As an organization, we’ve made the strategic decision to make impact and outcomes our leading priority. We still plan to reach thousands of students — this year, more than 30,000 — but our focus will be program quality versus quantity. We will do even more listening to community leaders and work harder to solve societal issues.

Here’s a glimpse of what is unfolding now, and what’s ahead:

For two consecutive years — and for the first time in more than 30 years — we are working with more middle and high school students than elementary school students.

That’s driven by school leaders telling us this age group of students, who have been significantly impacted by the pandemic and learning loss, truly need our help to prepare for their futures.

We are pursuing substantive discussions with public and private colleges and universities that — starting next year — will grant high school students college credit for completing some of JA’s 10 semester-long courses.

That hasn’t happened before, but these institutions recognize the caliber of JA’s newly-developed curriculum. A formal announcement remains ahead, but we’re tremendously encouraged by commitments from Albertus Magnus College, University of Hartford and University of St. Joseph.

We are also talking earnestly with community leaders about the possibility of building a JA BizTown/Finance Park facility in Hartford, a life-changing program that exists in more than 20 states across the country.

In this program, students complete 12 weeks of financial literacy curriculum before spending five hours at a JA facility for their capstone experience.

There’s more work ahead to launch this initiative, but our initial conversations have been quite promising. We’re hearing from school and business leaders that there is a critical need for stronger financial literacy training for Connecticut students.

We plan to launch a feasibility study in the weeks ahead to determine if we can raise the funds needed to build this program here.

We are also talking with several local school districts about the possibility of opening and operating a JA high school, a program called 3DE.

School leaders see this program as one that can substantially increase high school graduation rates, and business leaders see it as one that can help to better prepare young people for college and the world of work.

In addition, we are in active explorations with the federal government, specifically the Department of Defense, about the possibility of establishing a program that would launch in Connecticut, then expand nationally, contributing to the talent pipeline for the nation’s submarine and submarine supply chain workforce.

This is a sampling of the important work now taking place. It will not be easy, but nothing this important ever is.

We are confident that we can count on business leaders and professionals across many industries to take JA to the next level — because that is what our communities are asking of us.

Working collaboratively, we can inspire and prepare young people — the next generation of community leaders — to succeed. These ambitious, aspirational goals are now our North Star.

Jeremy Race is president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, which includes Hartford, New Haven, Middlesex, Tolland, Windham, Litchfield and New London counties.

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