Just like any other “downtown,” JA BizTown was a hive of activity when the Arts Council staff volunteered on December 3. Well prepared for their jobs, more than 100 confident 5th graders from Cedarwood Alternative Elementary jumped off their school buses and rushed to tackle the tasks of the day. After a short town meeting, the new employees swarmed the mini city, eager to try out what they’d learned in the classroom for the day in their business.
Junior Achievement of Central Ohio (JACO) has been a part of the Columbus community since 1950, hosting educational events for K-12 students designed to give them the confidence and inspiration they need to succeed in a global business economy. One of JACO’s capstones is a national program called JA BizTown: a learning laboratory that provides an opportunity for kids to experience how basic concepts of economics are used in the real world.
The four-week curriculum for 4th to 6th graders, in which the students cover a variety of business skills, including the basics of balancing a checkbook, the importance of their rights and responsibilities as citizens and designing a business plan, culminates in a day trip to JA BizTown: a model, mini city where the students “run the world for a day.” It also teaches kids about community, how people work together – and those are incredibly powerful lessons, too.
During the “day in the life” experience, students take on positions such as CEOs, CFOs, marketing directors and salespeople, as determined by their interest and aptitude tests in the classroom modules. Each business is given a loan to open its doors, and JA BizTown citizens must spend the rest of the program paying it off by selling their wares. Citizens also elect a mayor; CEOs attend mock conferences and everyone cashes their paychecks. JA BizTown is populated with 16 business and governmental organizations, modeled on real-world counterparts—from Huntington Bank to City Hall, the Blue Jackets Hockey Shop, CD102.5 and The Columbus Foundation and, of course, the Greater Columbus Arts Council. Each JA BizTown business is constructed from scratch by local volunteers and businesses like the Arts Council.
Our sponsorship of the program is just one example of how we invest proceeds from the Columbus Arts Festival. With our involvement, we hope to instill broad lessons about how the arts, business and community intersect, so that kids understand the way they support and enrich each other. The Arts Council’s shop is all about art and community, art and commerce, artists and arts organizations as contributing and vitally important members of our society. And it also helps to demonstrate the power of individual and corporate support of the arts. With help from design Alan Jazak, Atchley Graphics and the Columbus Idea Foundry, we created a shop that demonstrates all of these concepts. We hope that our BizTown shop helps to bring the arts to life, in a very concrete way.
In the real world, we receive most of our funding from the city directly through the bed tax (a tax on lodging at Columbus hotels and motels). But for this scenario, the students who ran the Arts Council for the day focused on paying back the loan they received to open their doors. They set prices and sold merchandise such as shark tooth necklaces and other items based on the Columbus Arts Festival’s mascot the Art Shark in order to cover their costs.
Philanthropy is also part of the BizTown spirit. The Arts Council and The Columbus Foundation presented students options for giving back to the community. For our part, the Arts Council worked with students at TRANSIT ARTS who created works of art for businesses to “sponsor.” The CEOs of each business selected and purchased one of sixteen art pieces commissioned by the mock Arts Council for their offices. These pieces were displayed as a public installation for all to see in the gym during JA BizTown’s closing ceremonies. Hopefully this will help the students understand how businesses support the arts and artists in their community directly through patronage.
As JA BizTown closed its shops after the final ceremony, we were all exhausted – especially the students. But everyone was enthusiastic about the experience. Volunteers and students alike headed home with the satisfaction of a job well done, and its citizens with the confidence that they can handle the ins and outs of running a business—or at least a better appreciation for the difficult decisions their parents and teachers make every day. Teacher and parent volunteers are trained to guide the students through the various activities they will face when they arrive at JA BizTown. This volunteer support in the businesses is critical to a smooth day in BizTown. Many volunteers are parents who have a child in the class that is visiting, however JA strongly encourages and invites community participation. Find out how you can get involved at jacols.org.
— Tom Katzenmeyer
Keep up with Tom’s adventures on Twitter: @tomkatzenmeyer