LATHAM — In keeping up with today’s ever-growing technology-based society, in-classroom programs through Junior Achievement continue to spark the interests of even the youngest students.
Junior Achievement of Northeastern New York (JA NENY) works with national and local organizations to bring leadership skills to students in the classroom. One such company is the Virginia-based contractor Bechtel, whose employees at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna teach students how the science they learn in school can be used in the future.
JA NENY brings men and women from around the community to teach students leadership skills. It hosts several programs, from a kindergarten level where students are taught the basics of economics and business to job shadowing for high school-aged students.
“Junior Achievement runs a variety of different programs,” said JA NENY President Ed Murray. “Most of what we do takes place in the classroom throughout the school day.”
Murray said the organization partners with hundreds of businesses nationwide. The Latham-based chapter, which serves counties from Ulster to Warren, hosts more than 1,000 in-classroom programs. Presenters are either employees at companies like Bechtel, or more locally, GE in Schenectady and Price Chopper, or parents and college students.
Bechtel partners with Junior Achievement on the national level, but the employees teaching programs at Capital District schools are from Knolls. Last year, company volunteers delivered 11 programs to nearly 250 students in Capital District schools.
“Bechtel has zeroed into the Junior Achievement that highlights STEM,” or science, technology, engineering and math, “because these are the types of skills they are looking to have in their community,” Murray said.
Companies like Bechtel are finding a shortage of manpower, due in part to the number of jobs in engineering and technology fields outweighing the number of college students who have graduated with a STEM concentration.
“I applaud Bechtel,” said Murray. “Industries like to bemoan the fact that they don’t have a high amount of young people” interested in the STEM positions. “Bechtel is interested in affecting what young people know about what (technology-based) industries are looking for.”
Peter Scavullo, manager of safety assessments and special projects for Bechtel, said the programs teach students skills transferable to the workplace, like communications and team building on the high school level.
“JA lesson plans are focused on filling the gap between the school and work environments,” said Scavullo.
#Programs in the elementary school level are based on a syllabus students would already learn, Murray said. “We’re not asking them to do what they aren’t already doing,” he explained.
The curriculum is created at the local chapters, like JA NENY, before members of Bechtel or GE go into schools to teach a lesson.
“We’re where the rubber meets the road,” said Murray of the local chapter. “We bring the business community to the education community.”
Murray said one lesson might be simulating a storefront in a certain community. The young students would have to decide what would be a good business to go into the storefront.
In the higher grade levels, the curriculum expands to a global economic level. In middle school, the lessons might teach toward sparking student interest in future career possibilities, whereas in high school, one program speaks directly toward future career goals. Programs also touch on entrepreneurial opportunities and economics.
“As a JA volunteer, I have taught 5th through 12th grade classes and believe the classes are beneficial because students often participate in hands-on exercises, which helps illustrate the points and enhances the learning skills needed to make the transition from school to the work environment,” Scavullo said.
For information about JA NENY and its programs, go to www.janeny,org.