A year ago this month, Junior Achievement of New Jersey (JANJ) moved into a 22,000-square-foot facility in Edison to anchor its two capstone programs, which organization President Catherine Milone says had been “nomadic.” She explains that new locations for the “JA Finance Park” and “JA Biz Town” programs had to be found every few years, with the moves putting a strain on JANJ staff and the more than 250 schools participating in the programs (due to long-term scheduling issues).
“The move was all about strategy,” Milone tells New Jersey Business. “The plan was to consolidate everything under one roof, which we knew would be the most efficient, most cost effective and the best for everyone. We knew that doing things the way we were was unsustainable.”
Now, the location, situated at Raritan Center, also serves as JANJ’s headquarters, housing a full-time staff of 14 and many volunteers – corporate and parental – who assist in the two capstone programs, in addition to JANJ’s Career Success programs.
JANJ, a non-profit organization, provides a series of business, economic and life-skills programs to enhance the education of young people. These programs touched 57,500 New Jersey students last year. This year, the goal is to reach 68,000 students. Of that number, 6,000 will visit Biz Town and 12,000 will visit Finance Park.
Biz Town has 14 storefronts, and many are branded and set up with a name of a corporate partner such as Investors Bank, Walmart, Horizon and Quest Diagnostics, to name a few. “It’s an experiential learning environment where students (5th and 6th graders) learn about the flow of an economy,” says Dawn Schwartz, senior vice president of development and communications for JANJ. All totaled, there are more than 100 role-playing jobs in Biz Town, ranging from CEO and CFO to tellers, medical technologist and town mayor (there is a city hall as well).
Students spend an entire day at Biz Town after completing a 12-hour curriculum in the classroom. When they arrive at JANJ, they are dressed professionally and ready to work. “Prior to arriving, they have all filled out job applications and interviewed for the jobs they will have,” Schwartz explains.
In JA Finance Park, which is geared towards high school students, participants learn how to make sound financial decisions. Students are given an identity: For example, a married person with two children earning $90,000 per year or a single parent with one child earning $20,000 per year. During the day, they will visit kiosks representing the daily expected and unexpected costs of life, such as groceries, car repair, utilities, housing, child care, healthcare, etc.
The curricula for Finance Park and Biz Town is created by the national Junior Achievement organization. JANJ picks and chooses the programs that are aligned with state education standards. As an example, the Finance Park program meets the state’s financial literacy requirements, in which all high school students must take 2.5 credits in the subject area before they graduate.
According to Milone, JANJ is funded by New Jersey corporations, foundations, individuals and its New Jersey Business Hall of Fame program.
The organization’s budget is nearly $3 million. “We only run as many programs as we can afford in any given year,” Milone says.
“We wouldn’t be a very good financial literacy program if we spent more,” Schwartz quips.