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Century-old Junior Achievement is going digital

TAMPA — Junior Achievement, the tried-and-true business education program, is retooling for the digital age.

Students access information differently today, national president Jack Kosakowski said during a visit last week to the Tampa Bay area. And through better use of technology, the century-old organization can deliver a wider range of information to instructors and students alike.

"We wanted to be current," said Kosakowski, who got his own start in business as a Junior Achievement high school student in Ohio.

"But we wanted to keep our secret sauce, which is the volunteer who provides inspiration."

Junior Achievement, which now reaches about 90,000 students in the Tampa Bay area, and a fifth of all public school students in Hillsborough County, got its start in 1919.

Over the years it went from an after-school program to one that pairs its volunteers with teachers, typically in social studies and economics class.

The new program, called the "JA Education Gateway," is being rolled out this summer in seven communities outside Florida, Kosakowski said. It will be implemented nationwide in early 2015.

Like the existing program, it has three objectives for students: entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy.

But, where volunteers are now sent into classrooms carrying bags of printed materials, the new program will use digital content as well.

Videos and teleconferencing will expose the students to interesting business owners who might not be able to commit to a series of classroom visits. Smartphone apps will enable students to calculate the cost of an education in their chosen field — and how much money they can expect to earn after they graduate.

Volunteers will be able to swap ideas in Web conferences. And students will be asked to take part in activities online, something the instructors can use to assess what they've learned.

The new format allows Junior Achievement to fill in gaps that now exist in communities that do not have access to a lot of business volunteers or with types of entrepreneurs who are hard to find in any community. For example, young entrepreneurs who would appeal to high school-age students, but who might not be available in Hillsborough or Pinellas County.

Kosakowski showed a slickly produced video about ZinePak, a New York business that creates interactive content for music and entertainment superfans, and narrated by the company's cofounder, Brittany Hodak.

The heavily animated clip traces ZinePak's history and provides sage advice. Always listen to your customers, Hodak tells her audience. Surround yourself with employees who love their work.

And don't get saddled with an office in the very beginning. "We needed our computer and our brains and a cellphone," she says.

The Education Gateway concept got a positive reception in Tampa Bay, where Junior Achievement board members will now promote it to their donors and volunteers.

Among other things, it will help the program adapt quickly when a school's needs change or when the state revises curriculum.

"It's going to make us more nimble and more effective," said Tampa Bay president Richard George.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Century-old Junior Achievement is going digital 06/11/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 11:56am]

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