Junior Achievement: Students get lessons of a lifetime in one day

Board games, music videos, coloring books, sticker sheets, financial planning and entrepreneurship training. At first glance, these activities don’t sound like they go together — but that is until you sit in a classroom where volunteers are able to make this all crystal clear.

That is what happened Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Long Hill Elementary School, when 22 parent volunteers spearheaded “JA in a Day,” when Junior Achievement of Greater Fairfield County’s mission becomes the lesson plan for the entire school day.

“It’s a field trip without going anywhere,” said school Principal Andrea D'Aiuto.

Parents first gathered in the school media center for a quick pep talk from Meg Melagrano, Junior Achievement of Greater Fairfield County’s senior district manager, before fanning out throughout the school. There was one parent for each class, from kindergarten through fourth grade.

“This is such a valuable experience for the students, with material that they are not taught on a regular basis,” said Melagrano told the parents. “These lessons are invaluable, and we couldn’t do what we do without you guys.”

Junior Achievement of Greater Fairfield County offers volunteer-delivered, kindergarten-12th grade programs which are designed to foster work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills as well as use experimental learning to inspire students to reach their potential.

“The skills taught during JA in a Day are not generally taught every day,” said D'Aiuto. “This is also a great community event. It is wonderful for the kids to see the volunteers, and I know these kids appreciate the fact parents give back to the school community.”

Melagrano said Junior Achievement offers two types of programs, JA in a Day and the same program that’s taught over a period of several weeks. Shelton schools primarily use the one-day method, according to Melagrano, adding that this choice offers a more “festive” feel for the children.

“Today, students are getting life lessons not traditionally taught through traditional classroom curriculum. We are making that connection through our volunteers to the real world,” said Melagrano.

In second grade, volunteers teach students about taxes using doughnuts, while third graders learn about how a bank works. Fourth graders focus on entrepreneurship and what it takes to start a business, such as what resources, natural and human, are needed to be a success.

“The kids work in groups as a team. They communicate well. In this case they come up with an idea for a restaurant. They need to come up with the logo, the menu, what charge for a meal,” said Melagrano.

Melagrano said the program helps students understand, for example, why mommy and daddy need to work, and why they need a job to buy things such food, clothing and shelter.

The volunteers are trained, working with Junior Achievement members for an hour to review curriculum and make sure they feel comfortable going into a classroom for an entire day.

D'Aiuto said she prefers the JA in a Day program because it allows the students to see how the lessons progress upon each other in one day rather than broken up over weeks, which could lead to some forgetting the initial ideas.

“The program also ties into what the kids are learning in classes like science or social studies,” said D'Aiuto. “They get that lesson extension and enrichment on something they are already learning.

“And the volunteer piece is huge. The kids see all the people — parents, business people — come in and volunteer. It is teaching the kids something that is very important and can be impactful.”