Life

Junior Achievement teaches kids how to budget, how to write a check

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What would you like to be when you grow up? Here’s how much that job pays. Now, figure out how to spend what you’ll earn.

That eye-opening exercise is one that Johnathon Brinson, district manager of Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa, puts to sixth-graders in a financial literacy class he teaches at Mount Vernon Middle School.

Brinson actually has kids draw a career out of a hat, with its salary noted. He then helps the students prepare a budget, including the type of house they hope to buy. It gets youngsters thinking about the financial facts of life.

“Some students chose to buy the nicest house possible and said they’d survive on hot dogs,” said Brinson, 35. “They learned a lot. They were awesome, and they asked great questions.”

Students are sent home with activities that aren’t quite homework — more like practice materials for the financial realities of day-to-day life.

“It encourages them to practice budgeting with their family,” Brinson said, noting the activities can spark conversations about money.

Brinson said students frequently arrive at a Junior Achievement class unsure about how to write a check and the difference between credit and debit.

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“It’s important that they learn how to own their own financial steps,” Brinson said.

Many of the students Brinson sees want to be successful.

“They want to know how to earn the most money,” he said.

Even though Junior Achievement classes won’t necessarily teach them that, they do teach young people how financial planning today can lay the groundwork for their future.

“I’m doing something impactful by providing the tools that guide students toward success,” Brinson said.

Through Junior Achievement, classroom volunteers teach work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy to more than 45,000 elementary through high school students in 45 Eastern Iowa school districts each year.

The volunteers who teach the financial literacy courses — which became part of Iowa’s required curriculum in 2018 — come from many different occupations.

Hearing from people in the community has the added benefit of teaching kids “about career paths they might not have heard of.”

Teaching materials, appropriate for each grade level, are provided to the volunteer teachers. Those interested in becoming a volunteer — it takes as little as one hour per week and can be done virtually this fall — can go to the Junior Achievement website, easterniowa.ja.org, and click “Get Involved.”

In teaching the classes, Brinson, a Florida native, said he draws from his experiences mentoring at-risk youth in his home state.

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“Keeping them engaged, not getting off track, and paying attention to the time is important,” he said. “It’s easy to accidentally spend 20 minutes answering a question.”

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