Sandy Springs-based Junior Achievement of Georgia and the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Foundation teamed up to create a discovery center, combining a financial literacy and readiness career center, and announced the plans at a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta. The discovery center will serve students in Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools and Fulton County Schools.
Set in the upper mezzanine level of the Congress Center’s Building C, there will be two separate virtual miniature Atlantas, one called “JA BizTown” and the other “JA Finance Park.”
“We will provide more than 30,000 students each year to have a hands-on experience,” Junior Achievement of Georgia board chair Joe Reinkemeyer said, at the groundbreaking ceremony. “It will teach young students about the realities of life, not just things you learn in the classroom.”
The middle-schoolers from the three districts will all learn the tools to manage a budget and “how to work,” said Reinkemeyer.
He said the same concept exists in 20 other U.S. cities.
“We had the idea this would be great here but it took a lot of work,” he said. “The board has committed 100 percent financially, a pledge of $1 million.”
The entire cost of the project totals $10 million, a summation of capital plus lease. There are currently 16 sponsors of the center.
Junior Achievement of Georgia President Jack Harris said the two city models will incorporate 18 brands of “real Atlanta companies” and “feels very much like our ecosystem here.”
An escalator bank will transform into a subway car look-alike, which lead students from Finance Park into Biztown.
Harris said Finance Park will be where children learn about microeconomics, including personal budgeting and marketing decisions, annual income and putting “all the puzzle pieces together.”
Biztown will be more traditional with banks and shops, and designed around a mini-Centennial Park, with a mayor’s podium, where a sixth-grader will stand each day after being elected by classmates.
“Biztown is about macroeconomics. One student will be CEO of Chick-fil-A for that day.” Harris said. “There will be 140 students at a time and all will have a unique job function. They will get paychecks, go to the bank and make a personal budget along the way.”
Dan Cathy, chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, said he hopes the acronym “TGIF” will change to “TGIM [Thank God It’s Monday].”
“For too long we’ve said ‘TGIF’ We’re going to change all that,” Cathy said.
He said the discovery center will encourage young people to have big dreams and aspire to accomplish them.
“Children can have within themselves the idea to pull themselves up, to be self-starters, … to do things right in free enterprise,” Cathy said.
Prior to visiting the center, all students will learn the skills they need to participate in the business like activities through 18 in-class lessons woven into each curriculum.
“This isn’t about a field trip,” said Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa. “Kids will be able to peel apart all the anxiety about what happens in a big city like Atlanta.”
And Atlanta Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Steve Smith said he believes fewer kids will drop out of school after experiencing the discovery center.
“Throughout America, more than 1 million students every year choose to drop out. When we ask students why, they normally say, ‘School was boring’ or ‘What I’m learning has absolutely nothing to do with the real world,’” Smith said.
“The discovery center will help transform learning experiences of students to make it more relevant and meaningful.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed describes the groundbreaking of the center as a “wow moment for the city.”
“You have a whole lot of people who are putting egos aside and trying to do something for the kids,” Reed said. “I hope we don’t miss that something very special is happening our city.”