Hands-on lab teaches students personal finance

January 19, 2009
When middle school students arrive at Junior Achievement's "Finance Park," they've been learning for weeks about financial institutions, taxes, and budgeting.

They should be ready to take on a hypothetical life scenario, complete with assigned salary and number of children, and go to work on a budget. If that budget includes a house or a car, they'll need to stop and price insurance policies at the mock Allstate insurance agency, one of several mock storefronts at the Gene B. Glick Junior Achievement Education and Conference Center on Keystone Avenue.

"Many people forget what a big role insurance plays in all our lives," said David Kaehr, Allstate's Indiana territory sales leader.

Kaehr, a Junior Achievement of Central Indiana board member, said his company is all for kids learning from real-life scenarios—without living through unpleasant events such as car accidents or hail storms. That's why Allstate's charitable foundation gave $50,000 to support Finance Park, one of the newest additions to JA's line-up of experience-based programs. Allstate's gift will help bring 10,000 middle school students a year into the program, Kaehr said.

The entrepreneurial component of Junior Achievement's programming also hit home with Kaehr, whose job is to support 224 independently owned agencies in Indiana. "They sign their own lease. They hire their own people. That's really the backbone of how Allstate has grown and been successful, is through our agency force."

JA teaches students that those mock storefronts represent small businesses, and gives them an idea of what it takes to run them, Kaehr said. "The more we educate our youth, it's just going to reciprocate."

Finance Park is one of the programs that became possible when, in 2004, Junior Achievement pulled out of its old downtown offices in favor of a former big-box retail store on Keystone Avenue. At the time, JA was seeing 13,000 fifth-graders a year in Exchange City, now called JA-Biz-Town, where kids attempt to run their own mini-economies. JA moved to gain the capacity it would need to double the number of elementary students and add middle and high-school students to the program.

As a board member since 2006, Kaehr said Junior Achievement's experiential learning center leaves an impression on adults, too. "It's a very professional organization." 
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