A new way to get middle school kids excited about learning

Three middle school students holding up Junior Achievement materials with two adult volunteers
JA volunteers bring hands-on learning to Newton students

Newton Middle School (Newton) educators are getting their students ready for the complicated, exciting world of adulthood in the most relevant way possible – by bringing Greenwood Village business professionals from Denver Tech Center into the local classroom down the street. Assistant Vice Principal Amy Rahne teamed up with Junior Achievement (JA) last month to break the regular school day routine and show kids what their future can look like through the JA Career Speaker Series program.

“It’s really important to us to try and engage students in their education in new and different ways,” Rahne says. “For them to see that there is life beyond the classroom, and that what they’re learning connects them to the future, makes it real.”

Jill Hrnicek, JA-Rocky Mountain Director of Education and Volunteer Engagement, says, “The team at Newton is always willing to work with JA to try new things. They jumped at the chance to try out the JA Career Speaker Series program and were one of the first schools in the Denver Metro area to do so.” JA-Rocky Mountain Chief Learning Officer and former school principal Mike MacDonnell adds, “It’s fantastic to see a school embrace bringing relevant and authentic learning experiences to their students. The students were engaged and asked a lot of great questions.”

Daniel Bergman and two coworkers at JA fundraising event
JA Career Speaker Daniel Bergman (left) and fellow JA supporters raise funds for kids at JA Bowl-A-Thon

One of Newton’s eighth grade classes welcomed longtime JA volunteer Daniel Bergman to speak about his journey becoming a Senior Client Service Manager at Empower Retirement, the advice he gives to everyday people to help them save their money, and the importance of recognizing your skills and interests to find a successful career. “There were definitely some students where you could see a light bulb turn on,” he says.

To give the students an idea of the work he does with clients, Bergman offered an example of money management that was relevant to their lives today.

“One student asked, ‘What do you think I should do with my allowance?’ and I said, ‘Well, the same thing that I tell people when they have a job. If you’re getting an allowance for chores, that is your job, so maybe put some money aside, and sure, spend some money on something you want because you earned it, just don’t spend everything. You can have savings accounts for specific purposes – for the bike you want, or that video game, and you’ll want to have savings to prepare for emergencies, so if something comes up, you don’t have to go into debt.”

Empower Retirement, along with several other Greenwood Village companies, engage their employees as volunteers with JA at local schools to make sure that our community’s next generation of leaders are ready to take on the real world. Rahne believes that the JA impact is just as positive for the volunteers as it is for students. She says, “Our workforce needs to see what our future will be, and they need to see that we will be in good hands. Kids can do a lot, they have great personalities, and they’re a whole lot of fun. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Newton and JA continue to brainstorm ways to collaborate and inspire young people. In past years, Newton students have been immersed in a budget-building simulation at JA Finance Park in Thornton, presented by Transamerica, but the lengthy commute up north has become a barrier for them to participate. But starting in August 2021, they’ll have the JA Free Enterprise Center right here in Greenwood Village, housing a state-of-the-art second JA Finance Park location and interactive JA Dream Accelerator. These immersive experiences will help students find their passions, turn them into a career, learn about Colorado business legends, and practice being adults for the day.

“It’s much more accessible to our district,” Rahne says. “This will be an even more interactive approach to helping realize their own strengths and what careers might fit those strengths. It sounds like it will be an awesome opportunity for students in the area!”

Educators – request a JA program in your classroom

Click here to learn more about volunteering with JA