Junior Achievement: The Power of Experiential Learning

Last Updated by Jennifer Burk on

High School graduation season is upon us. During this time of year, countless numbers of students will being making the transition from high school do college and career paths. How to we ensure that this transition is successful? In the coming weeks, we will be featuring blog posts that explore best practices in working to ensure college and career readiness.


When 5th grade students from across central Indiana walk into JA BizTown on Keystone Avenue, it may look from the outside like just a fun field trip.  However, kids are actually going to work.  In this simulated real life town, there are CEO’s and CFO’s, scientists and bank tellers, sales managers, a mayor and many other jobs.  And, while a day at JA BizTown may be hard work, students are getting paid for it. 

One thing we know is that kids (and adults) learn best by doing.  Opportunities for experiential learning are critical to showing students that what they learn in the classroom is relevant to the real world.  This allows them to connect the dots between staying in school, and achieving future employment, fulfillment and success. 

Experiential learning programs like those offered by Junior Achievement are a great way to complement what teachers are doing in the classroom.  JA’s mission is to empower young people to own their future success.  Programs focus on hands-on opportunities to learn financial literacy, work readiness, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. 

JA programs begin in preschool and kindergarten with stories and games teaching kids concepts like working, earning, spending, saving and giving.  There is a specific JA program for every grade in elementary school, along with multiple programs designed just for middle school and high school.  With age-appropriate, sequential themes, students can gain knowledge, skills and confidence that will last a lifetime. 

A key component of JA programs is the volunteer. Want to get a kid’s attention when their mind is wandering, looking out the window on a beautiful spring day?  Send in a new face to the classroom.  A caring adult from the community, full of energy and enthusiasm, who brings in activities like how to build a city (with cool pop-up cardboard buildings and a giant zoning map), or what happens to a dollar loaned by the bank as it travels from business to consumer to business. 

Sure, this is educational, but it’s also fun!  While 3rd graders are building their city, they’re pretending to be architects – taking measurements on blueprints and making calculations.  It might be math on any other day, but on this day it’s just fun. 

It’s never too early to start inspiring kids to own their future, nor is it ever too late.  This needs to be a mission our entire community embraces and supports.  Because the truth is, far too many young people are uninspired and unengaged.  They don’t see the relevance of classroom education to the real world, and they don’t feel empowered to pursue their dreams. 

Furthermore, although we are making some progress, it is clear that we continue to have a drop-out crisis in our community.  Far too many young people don’t graduate from high school, don’t pursue post-secondary education, and become adults without the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to support a successful future.  This is a nationwide problem, but the situation is particularly disturbing here in our state – Indiana currently ranks 42nd out of 51 U.S. states and territories for the percentage of adults with an Associate’s degree or higher. 

There are many reasons and factors impacting these issues. Admittedly, there are no easy answers, no single solution. However, Junior Achievement can make, and is making, a difference: 

  • JA gets kids excited about the possibilities for their future. 
  • JA programs expose children to a breadth of career options and pathways, help them assess their interests and talents, and build their confidence. 
  • JA programs give students hands-on experience operating a business, creating and managing a budget, working as a team, making decisions and solving problems.  

And, since many JA programs are led by volunteers from the business community, they provide students with role models willing to share their own experiences, and inspirational stories of overcoming obstacles in the pursuit of one’s dreams.  

Most importantly, Junior Achievement programs are proven to be effective.  Studies show that students who participate in JA programs: 1) have a better understanding of how the real world operates, 2) have a greater appreciation for the importance and value of education to a successful future, AND 3) are more confident in their ability to graduate from high school and pursue postsecondary education. 

Students participating in JA are able to connect the dots between what they learn every day in school, and the real world outside of school.  They see the relevance of education to opportunities for future success, and are inspired to DREAM BIG and believe they can achieve their goals. 

We think we should do the same.  We can all make a difference – call us and get involved today!


Jennifer Burk graduated from Butler University and IU Maurer School of Law, and practiced law at Ice Miller and Duke Realty Corporation. In 2009, Burk became President & CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, a position which allows her to blend her experience in business with her passion for children and education. 


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