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Reflections on Teaching a JA Class

Each year, JA of Lincoln sends hundreds of volunteers from the business community into schools all across Lincoln, each equipped with curriculum specific to the grade they’ll be teaching. Our volunteers tell us that we do a great job of helping them feel confident about the message they’re delivering… but how do you know if the students really absorbed what you told them? Randy Bretz of Nelnet (who also happens to be President of the JA of Lincoln Board of Directors) recently taught a 6th grade class, and wrote the following about his experience:

Sometimes, when you look out there into their eyes, you wonder if they’ve gotten anything from your time in front of the class. Yes, they participated in the activities. Yes, they seemed to know the terms you’d introduced. (Well, after all, they WERE printed right there on the book mark you gave them.) Yes, they seemed excited that first day when they looked for items in the room and identified their country of origin. But, did they really get it? Did they really understand the global marketplace?

The goals for the JA Global Marketplace sixth grade curriculum include introducing international markets, law, cultural exchange, as well as considering the flow of human resources, information and financial capital. Would they understand these concepts? Could they apply their knowledge of the global economy to their daily lives?

I’ve taught Junior Achievement classes at a variety of levels and the sixth grade focus on our global community is one of my favorites. It’s a real eye opener to explore a sixth grade classroom smack dab in the middle of the country and find electronics from Taiwan, shoes from Indonesia, backpacks from China, pencils from Costa Rica, and other items from Japan, India, France and Canada. It’s fun to learn about the international influence in some very familiar companies including McDonalds, Baskin Robins, Adidas, Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s challenging to consider what it is like to pack your bag and move to another country. It’s a real learning experience to consider international law, the World Trade Organization and concepts like tariffs and embargoes.

But, after all the activities and lessons, did they really get anything out of the time you’ve spent with them? I found out the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The answer came to me not in the form of a pre and post test, but in a thank you card given to me by Julie Wisdom’s sixth grade class at Cathedral Elementary School. As they wrote in the thank you card, it became very apparent that they had indeed learned. Here are just a few of the comments.

I learned that companies brand their items so the brand is the same in every part of the world.
In the WTO (World Trade Organization) they have to make many hard decisions.
Companies have different Web pages for different countries.
Hamburgers are lamb burgers in other parts of the world.
A lot of things in the U.S. are imported from other countries.
I learned how different countries have different languages, lifestyles and food. I understand more about it.

Junior Achievement is committed to the development and implementation of programs designed to help students understand the importance of free enterprise. There’s no doubt in my mind that the sixth grade students at Cathedral Elementary School in Lincoln, Nebraska have a greater understanding of free enterprise from the perspective of the global marketplace. And what’s more, we had a great time together.

— Randy Bretz

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