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Inspiring future business leaders

Junior Achievement of Kearney (JA) is a volunteer-delivered, kindergarten through fifth grade program that promotes work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills. These classes are taught by volunteer business people from the Kearney area. Students are inspired to dream big and reach their potential. In the 2014-15 school year, with the help of more than 70 local volunteers, over 1,500 Kearney area students developed the skills they need to experience the realities and opportunities of work and entrepreneurship.

The unique concept of utilizing volunteer community business people as teachers, provides students with first-hand business knowledge and experience. Cutting-edge curriculum is provided to the volunteer teachers and enables students to learn about a variety of real world concepts, from saving for a rainy day to writing a business plan. Local instructors use personal examples of businesses, future careers and employment opportunities in our community.

Think about what you learned in school. Most likely you were taught algebra, sentence structure and the difference between continents and countries. You most likely memorized the state capitols and presidents and learned basic government organization. All these subjects are important, but what if you also learned to identify a “want” versus a “need,” what a city planner does, why zoning laws are important, why taxes are necessary and how to balance a checkbook. Imagine the advantage of having this knowledge as you entered college or the workplace.

Principals, classroom teachers, parents and students have all had exciting things to say about JA.

“Park loved the opportunity to be involved in JA for the first time in the fall of 2014,” said Katie Mathews, Park Elementary School principal. “The volunteers delivered engaging lessons for our kindergarten through fifth grade students surrounding entrepreneurship, financial literacy and making a difference in their communities. Those are all such important understandings for the 21st century, but our K-5 curriculum and school day simply don't allow for them. The volunteers are leaders from our community and they were able to speak from experience and expertise. We hope to be able to continue with JA for many years to come. It is powerful to know our students could have the JA experiences from kindergarten all the way through fifth grade.”

Volunteer teacher Marty Madden also believes JA is a powerful tool.

“Junior Achievement is an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs and members of the business community to be engaged with our local schools and supplement the traditional academic curriculum with 'real world' experience,” she said.

From the educator’s point of view, JA provides the training, materials and support necessary to reinforce the chances for student success. The teachers work with the volunteers to share their workforce experience with students, all while teaching sound economic principles and reinforcing the class curricula. According to, students who participate in JA programs demonstrate a significant understanding of economics and business concepts, particularly those who participate in programs at consecutive grade levels, according to independent evaluators. Research also shows that JA students are better than non-JA students at succeeding in a job, acting professionally and taking on leadership roles, resolving conflicts and building confidence. Linking education to a future opportunity is an important part of JA. By using volunteers from the community, students are provided professional life experiences that help them understand how education directly affects their future careers. Leadership starts young and JA is a powerful program that partners the business community with the education community to build our future leaders.

If you would like to learn more about JA, or are interested in being involved in the program, visit

About the Author

Marion McDermott
Executive Director, Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce

Marion is a Grand Island native who has lived in Kearney since 2010. Marion previously worked for 11 years with the Chamber in Ogallala.   Marion has been the Executive Director of the Kearney Chamber since February 2013.


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