JA’s Advocate of the Year is presented by TIAA
Each year, Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain (JA) names one person or organization Advocate of the Year. The recipient is hand-selected by JA staff members in recognition of their extraordinary breadth of advocacy activities for JA, from their promotion of JA’s mission, to their willingness to go above and beyond to ensure a powerful experience for JA students, volunteers and educators. This year, JA is proud to name Adams 12 Five Star Schools as the 2020 Advocate of the Year, presented by TIAA.
Under the leadership of Superintendent Chris Gdowski, the Five Star District integrates JA programs at all grade levels, and actively promotes JA to teachers, students and parents as a way to augment classroom learning with practical, interactive and relevant lessons that stick with young people.
“It’s never too early to start building students’ financial literacy,” Gdowski says. “We believe that creating foundations that build upon each other over time is the key to having graduates go on feeling really prepared for handling financial matters as adults. So starting as early as kindergarten and having a dose each year that stacks on top of their foundation of knowledge we believe is important.”
But Gdowski says it’s also the interactivity that makes JA work so well for students.
“You’ve got to make it practical. It can’t all be textbook, worksheets or lecture driven. Having opportunities to do experiential things like go to JA Finance Park or do a JA Job Shadow, or being able to ask a businessperson questions—that experiential piece is really key to landing it.”
The school district is seeing results too. Gdowski says he recently heard news of several students at Mountain Range High School in Westminster being awarded a MoneyWi$er scholarship from the state. Scholarships are awarded to individuals who demonstrate a priority in personal finance education. Mountain Range’s business teacher and DECA advisor, Hilary Wimmer, who was named Teacher of the Year by the state last year, and was also JA’s 2019 Educator of the Year, regularly engages her students in JA Job Shadows, the JA Stock Market Challenge, JA Business Week and several other JA programs.
“My goal is to instill the concept of connecting with the local community,” Wimmer said last year when being honored as JA’s Educator of the Year. “I have found that the best partner I have in education is Junior Achievement. I constantly work with JA to help bring relevant, volunteer-led programs into my classroom.”
Connecting with the local community doesn’t stop with Mountain Range high schoolers in their “student” role. Many are also engaged as JA High School Leaders, delivering JA lessons themselves to neighboring elementary students. Earlier this year, Mountain Range students served as JA volunteers for young students at Glacier Peak Elementary and Global Village Academy.
Gdowski also values ethics lessons he acknowledges are rarely offered to high school students. He has even led JA’s locally created Capitalism with a Conscience program himself, framing lessons for students with some of the ethical challenges he has seen as superintendent.
“I love to see students debate and grapple with hard issues around business ethics and principles, and how to treat people fairly. When they are experiencing this with someone other than their classroom instructor, someone who can bring in examples from their career or professional life, that makes it very real for kids. I think it’s a great learning experience.”
Gdowski extends his thanks to the teachers who turn over their classroom to JA volunteers—very often individuals they are meeting for the first time, and to the JA volunteers who give so much of their time for students.
“I’ve always been blown away by how much time people are willing to invest in our young people. It’s a little bit scary sometimes to come into a classroom of kids and worry about making a connection, making it worthwhile for kids, and dealing with their various needs. But when you have volunteers come in, give their time, connect with kids, share content and their perspective, that’s invaluable.”