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ASU, Junior Achievement of Arizona partner to empower young learners

Nonprofit adds ASU storefront to on-site learning facility

Cali Anderson and Savannah La Berge at Junior Achievement of Arizona BizTown

Cali Anderson (left) and Savannah La Berge at Junior Achievement of Arizona BizTown. Photo by Jim Brophy

September 22, 2023

At Junior Achievement of Arizona's BizTown, Phoenix-area elementary school students can immerse themselves in an enriching imaginary community, playing the roles of citizens, retailers, the town banker, the mayor — and now an Arizona State University professor.

BizTown is an engaging nonprofit program that introduces students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade to real-world experiences that they might not have otherwise. Structured as a miniature version of a working city with more than 40 businesses, the students transform into employees and employers for a day and learn important life skills in the process. Thanks to a new partnership, this hands-on critical thinking experience now includes a higher education component.

The new ASU storefront made its BizTown debut at a celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 20 at the Junior Achievement Arizona location in Tempe.

“ASU is honored to be a part of the real-life learning experiences that are taking place at Junior Achievement of Arizona BizTown,” said Joanne Vogel, vice president of Student Services at ASU. “The opportunity for students, at a young age, to consider possibilities for their futures and to learn in depth about higher education is incredibly valuable.”

Junior Achievement (JA) BizTown empowers young students by equipping them with the financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work-readiness skills they will need to succeed. Students who participate in the program have the opportunity to learn real-world workplace skills, economic concepts and decision-making while still having fun.

“I got to do this in both fifth and sixth grade, and it was so much fun. I got to be the CEO of one of the medical departments here,” said Savannah La Berge, an 11th grade student at Xavier College Preparatory and a Junior Achievement student ambassador. “We learned about the difference between credit cards and debit cards, we learned what taxes were, we learned how to write a check, and all of those were very valuable lessons. All of that laid the foundation for the career path that I want to go into now: business.”

The program starts in a classroom setting, where students learn what’s involved in working in today’s world — such as how to create a business plan, design a marketing campaign, apply for jobs, vote for city officials and more. Once they have the initial understanding, the students head to BizTown, where they put their new skills to work by becoming employees for a day.

“I thought it was just going to be paper screens that you can’t type on and that are fake, but when I walked in here, I realized that everything is real. There’s a real town, real businesses, there is real everything; I really like that about BizTown,” said Cali Anderson, a sixth grade student at Edison Elementary. “I do recommend that kids come here, because it’s a great experience.”

ASU’s shop at JA BizTown will provide resources and knowledge to support students’ academic journey, from K–12 through college. The store highlights the ways in which ASU supports students through career exploration, student engagement and academic success. During the experience, students will visit with "The Advisor," who will work with them to help explore career options, and "The Professor," who will ask trivia questions regarding the college process, at the ASU shop.

“Our mission is inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in work and life,” said Katherine Cecala, president of Junior Achievement of Arizona. “I am so thrilled that we have ASU here as a partner in BizTown. Together, we are making a difference in the lives of kids in Arizona.”

Students who work in the ASU storefront will get an early look into all that the university has to offer, including the variety of robust academic programs and opportunities to explore and practice the 21st-century learning skills that are essential to today’s learners: critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating and collaborating.

“The reveal of the ASU shop at Junior Achievement of Arizona's BizTown was a momentous occasion,” said Vanessa Ruiz, deputy vice president of Outreach Partnerships at ASU. “We are pleased to partner with Junior Achievement to bring ASU’s college and career readiness resources to BizTown, where young students are empowered through hands-on learning and exposure to the skills and perspectives that will help them to succeed later in life.”

Ruiz said the ASU shop at JA BizTown represents a powerful collaboration between ASU and Junior Achievement.

“The statewide college attainment rate in Arizona is currently at 47%. The ASU shop emphasizes the university’s role in fostering career exploration through college-readiness programs and initiatives that help K–12 students determine their path and foster a college-going mindset,” Ruiz said. “It also underscores the university’s commitment to supporting Arizona's goal of achieving a 60% college degree, certificate or license attainment among working-age adults by 2030.”

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