SARASOTA -- Three decades ago, Junior Achievement challenged students to create a product and design their own business around it.
With the changing world, the program has evolved and now includes career exploration and financial literacy components, programs students may not necessarily get in the classroom anymore.
"You teach lessons they're not going to get at home," Joe Downs, the founder of Reality Financial Services, said Thursday at a Junior Achievement breakfast.
The program at The Francis, a downtown restaurant, celebrated the Junior Achievement programs in Sarasota and Manatee County schools. Manatee County officials who attended the breakfast, including School Board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter and Superintendent Diana Greene, want to work to see more of these programs in Manatee schools. The goal for the 2015-16 year is to have 1,506 Manatee County students involved in one of the JA programs, and JA advocates like Joe Blitzko, who serves on the school board's volunteer audit committee, wants to see that number grow. Blitzko invited Carpenter and Greene to the event Thursday.
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"I think we should look at it," Carpenter said, adding that the real-world experience helps students get en
gaged in their learning.
The program requires businesses and volunteers to get on board and get into the classrooms, bridging the gap between real-life experiences and classroom lessons. Sarasota County Superintendent Lori White spoke highly of the program's focus.
"We have to do more than just fill the academic requirements," she said. "It takes an entire community to prepare these students."
All eighth-graders in Sarasota County participate in "It's My Future," a program that aims to get students to think about their career aspirations. North Port High School is home to special JA program for students who are also parents. It helps teach them financial literacy, budgeting and how to run a household with a small child. Junior Achievement, which was founded nearly a century ago, also has financial literary programs for students who are not parents.
Expanding the JA program in Manatee County would include collaboration with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, which offers financial programs and seminars such as the "Big Bank Theory" to help teach financial literacy. "Junior Achievement was founded on collaboration," said Kristin Schreiner, the regional director for Junior Achievement.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.