Technology Staff and Student Volunteers Pay it Forward at JA Finance Park

JA Finance Park photo

On Thursday, December 1, 2016, a group of 16 Enterprise Technology staff members and two students put away their desktops, laptops, and cell phones to show up at the Junior Achievement (JA) Finance Park in Landover, Maryland, and shared life’s lessons on earning, spending, and saving money.

The technology staff and student volunteers spent the day coaching 50 Prince George’s County eighth graders from Ernest E. Just Middle School through a budget simulation at this state-of-the-art facility. Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) is a partner and maintains the “College Education” room at JA Finance Park Landover.

Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, established in 1919, prepares young people from all walks of life for economic success. They do this by introducing real-life financial and entrepreneurial settings for students to navigate through as if they were adults for the day. And it’s not just students who learn a thing or two about finances – in 2016 JA Finance Park put the rookie squad of the Washington Redskins through their financial paces in this same type of simulation.

“Junior Achievement has been around a long time, and I was a member of JA as a junior high school student myself,” said Dr. Rhonda Spells-Fentry, interim Vice President of Enterprise Technology. “I was excited to support this important partnership and invited staff from Enterprise Technology to bring their real-world perspective to county students.”

In addition to technology staff volunteers, the 8th graders also heard from PGCC students who are members of the Students Working to Advance Technology (SWAT) club here on campus.

“Volunteers are critical to bringing context to the experience our students have here,” explained Heath Carelock, education director, JA Finance Park, Prince George’s County. “This is an experience that will continue to resonate with them as we hope to inspire a generation of students to be tenacious in navigating a complex economy, managing risk, and welcoming opportunity.”

Following a morning orientation to the experiential learning experience, it was down to business as PGCC staff and student volunteers were each assigned a group of students to coach through more than two dozen line items of an adult-styled budget.

To start the simulation, students created a monthly budget based on an assigned personal income and family scenario described on an individual “Life Situation” assigned to them. They then rotated through rooms and experiences covering financial topics such as banking, clothing, education, entertainment, food, furniture, healthcare, home improvement, insurance, investment, real estate, transportation, utilities, and unplanned life events. Each decision represents part of a student’s personal budget.  At the conclusion of the simulation, students pay their bills and adjust spending to balance their budgets.

The experience culminated in students and PGCC volunteers reconvening for a wrap-up and panel discussion moderated by Mr. Carelock. PGCC panelists Dr. Spells-Fentry, Dr. Susan Biro, and Randy Graham shared what the experience meant to them and enjoyed cajoling, questions, and encouraging the students to take what they learned and begin applying it right away to their life’s goals.

Enterprise Technology staff members who participated in this volunteer event were Dr. Spells-Fentry, Keyonna Andrews, Sheldon Harrison, Dr. Biro, Randy Graham, Cheri Hawkins, Carla Daniels, Theresa Walker, Gabriel Teran, Angela Mathis, Cameron Peterson, Antony Jackson, Sabrina Bell, Anna Towe, and Cynthia Green.

PGCC student Deandre Gibson, representing Students Working to Advance Technology, also served as a coach.

As with many community organizations that rely on civic engagement for existence, JA could not continue to thrive without the aid of community partners and the involvement of “volunteer heroes.”  Everyone should have the good fortune of experiencing this heartwarming venture, at least once. In so doing, one has the golden opportunity of leaving indelible imprints on bright minds that may someday choose PGCC as a destination for higher education as they journey onward.

Article submitted by Cynthia Green and Dr. Susan Biro

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