“Raise your hands if you would ever go to a job interview in sweatpants and crocs,” asked JoAnn Smith, as she led a Junior Achievement session at the Falls High School.
A few students raised their hands sheepishly.
“You just can’t do that,” she explained firmly, then telling students how they need to treat every job interview as if it’s for their dream job.
Throughout her sessions at Falls High School, Smith taught students about entering the workforce, interviewing for a job, and the basics of personal finance.
“We expect them to just know these things, but it doesn’t work like that,” she said.
A few weeks after her session finished, she ran into a boy bagging groceries at a local grocery store who was in her Junior Achievement class. He told her he got the job by using the tips she taught him.
“It feels good, to feel like you make a difference,” she said.
Junior Achievement is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future and make smart academic and economic choices. Topics covered in student programs include budgeting, banking, buying intelligently, money management, career development, and teamwork.
“Junior Achievement ignites the spark in young people to experience and realize the opportunities and realities of work and life in the 21st century,” Smith said.
Smith leads the Small Business Development Center under the umbrella of the Koochiching Economic Development Authority, and coordinates the Junior Achievement program locally.
Junior Achievement came to the Falls in the 2011-12 school year, began at Indus last year, and is expanding to include Northome this school year.
With programs starting as young as kindergarten, Junior Achievement impacts more than just high school students.
While it might seem a bit young to talk to children about financial literacy and the workforce, Smith said, “It’s important to teach it young, to build a foundation.”
Topics for younger students include learning the difference between, for example, needs and wants, and the role that money plays in society.
“My daughter knows she wants everything at the store, but does she need it?” she explained.
Volunteers are being sought to lead Junior Achievement sessions for students at Falls Elementary, St. Thomas, Indus Elementary and High School, Littlefork-Big Falls Elementary and High School and Northome Elementary.
Smith stressed there is no experience needed to be a volunteer.
“We’ll take anyone,” she said laughing, adding that it probably helps to have an outgoing personality and a desire to work with youth.
Volunteers complement the regular school curriculum by sharing their personal and employment experiences with the kids. Lesson plans and activities are provided for volunteers in kits from Junior Achievement. However, volunteers are able to mix up the programming as they please, with personal stories, games or other relevant materials.
Smith said current volunteers are mostly parents of students and local business owners, but she is hoping to get more grandparents and retirees involved.
It’s all about bringing the community into the classrooms and the classrooms into the community, she said.
The times and dates for volunteering are determined by the volunteer and the corresponding teacher, but in general, volunteers only need to commit to five sessions of an hour each.
Volunteers are needed at all locations and for all age groups.
The sessions usually take place after students have taken the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, toward the end of the school year, but since new schools are being added, Smith is beginning the search for volunteers early, as other schools may choose to hold them earlier in the school year.