Gas. Car payments. Rent. Electricity. Groceries. That’s life, a never-ending cycle of expenses, one after the other.
Junior Achievement of Oklahoma prepares the next generation to tackle life’s financial challenges with confidence. In the JA Finance Park 2.0 in Tulsa, students learn about real-life economic scenarios and how to manage them.
America’s Car-Mart is the Transposition Sponsor of Junior Achievement of Oklahoma for the 2023 – 2024 academic year, which includes Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
“At Car-Mart, we are committed to giving back to our communities in meaningful ways. We believe that investing in our youth is crucial, and it is our responsibility to help them flourish,” says Vickie Judy, Chief Financial Officer. “JA’s focus on real-life learning and financial literacy goes a long way in showing students the realities of adulthood. We believe money management is one of the keys to empowerment and prosperous lives.”
“Now more than ever, kids need to know how to spend money wisely as they graduate,” says Jon Harris, Program Manager, Junior Achievement of Oklahoma. He oversees JA Finance Park and coaches 100 students at JA Finance Park Monday through Friday, where he says the students ‘bloom and blossom.’
Jon, a former elementary school teacher, transitioned to Junior Achievement to pursue his passion for teaching kids. “There, I had an impact on one class. Now, with Junior Achievement, I change 100 lives every day. That’s what it’s all about,” continues Jon, who served as an Infantryman in the U.S. Army and did one tour in Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division. Additionally, he was stationed at the United States Military Academy, West Point, where he trained future Army Officers.
Jon explains that JA Finance Park prepares the next generation in areas like financing, budgeting, taxes, and more that may not be covered in school. “We want to make sure kids have the life skills to prepare them for the real world,” he adds. “With today’s economy, having financial know-how is super important. We all want to enjoy our money, but spending it recklessly is irresponsible.”
Here’s more from Jon about JA Finance Park, and how Car-Mart provides support to JA Oklahoma.
What is JA Finance Park 2.0 all about?
It’s a hands-on simulation where 9th through 12th grade students choose their own adventure. They decide which path they want to take. They select a career that will provide them with an income, and then determine if they want to get married, have children, or adopt a pet. They learn to budget and live within their means through smart shopping and wise decisions.
Participants will face “That’s Life” prompts, which present unexpected challenges like broken air conditioning. They must manage and overcome these obstacles.
Prior to participating in the four-hour simulation, students participate in 12 finance lessons at school to prepare for it. The 13-lesson financial course covers all of the state’s personal financial literacy graduation requirements. The simulation serves as a capstone program and a comprehensive test of all the students have learned.
Through all the lessons, the kids learn how to be responsible for their personal finances. [See JA Finance Park sidebar for more details]
How is the car-buying process integrated into JA Finance Park?
Everyone, at some point in their life, will need a vehicle, so we have a component in the simulation about the car-buying process.
Students are given the option to choose whether or not they want to buy a vehicle. Plus, they have to buy a means of transportation for their spouses. They have to decide between buying an expensive car or one that fits their budget. Based on their income from their jobs, they need to determine what they can afford and how they can manage their expenses.
Additionally, they learn how much a car costs and about monthly car payments. They learn how to fill out a loan application and gain knowledge about the process of getting approved or denied.
This simulation will better prepare students for purchasing a vehicle.
What is the response from the students who participate in the program?
You see ‘light bulb’ moments. They learn about the cost of insurance or the cost of childcare, for example. Most importantly, they pay attention because it’s reality.
One of our own JA Finance Park graduates now works for Junior Achievement. Here’s what Taylor Simmons, our Tulsa Program Manager, says about her experience: “JA Finance Park opened my eyes to the reality of adulthood and what to expect in the years to come. From my experience I was able to plan for my future by understanding how to create a budget, the differences between a need and a want, and the importance of managing my money to attain the life I want to live.”
What are your best memories from JA Finance Park?
It’s definitely those ‘light bulb’ moments. Some want to return their kids because they’ve learned kids are expensive. But, we say, ‘Sorry, you can’t do that.’
Teenagers shop and buy things they want that will enhance their personal lives, such as clothes, entertainment, food, video games, and music. They don’t realize that life is more than having fun and hanging out with friends.
After the simulation, they become better equipped to manage finances and achieve success.
Why is it crucial to receive assistance from both the community and businesses?
Getting volunteers involved is a win-win situation for everyone at JA Finance Park. It’s a great day for all when they show up to help. The volunteers bring their own life experiences and stories, which helps make the simulations more relatable and engaging. Having gone through similar experiences, they can share their stories and provide valuable insight to the students.
JA Finance Park is an exceptional educational tool that offers practical and relevant lessons based on real-world scenarios. Students learn how tough it is to make financial decisions. And it inspires young people to own their economic success.
JA Finance Park
Where students learn about personal finance and money management skills:
- Career interests and earning an income
- Saving and investing
- Balancing a checkbook
- Using credit and debit cards
- Understanding interest
- Loans and borrowing money
- Federal and state taxes
- Renting vs buying
- Student debt
- Charitable giving