Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain (JA) is proud to name Bas Wolf as its 2023 JA Educator of the Year. Bas, who taught English for his first 17 years in the classroom, is entering his ninth year leading the Alternative Cooperation Education (ACE) program at Highlands Ranch High School.
Back in 2014, Bas was still teaching English. The school year was underway in Highlands Ranch, and all signs pointed to a typical fall semester. Then tragedy struck.
Joe Chandler, the school’s ACE teacher since its inception in 2007, passed away suddenly at the age of 46 in mid-October over fall break. Bas, who was a friend of Joe’s, saw first-hand the impact his death had on students.
“The kids absolutely adored him,” said Bas. “He was a father figure. I had a couple of his students in my class and saw how much they were hurting.”
Bas knew he had to do something. So following Thanksgiving, he left the English department and took over the ACE program. Joe had incorporated JA’s curriculum in the classroom, and Bas saw the benefits almost immediately.
“Junior Achievement was a bridge from the program under Mr. Chandler to the program under me. It provided continuity, and it helped save the program and save the kids” said Bas.
Bas, who was raised in a small town and went to smaller schools growing up, never had hands-on experience with financial literacy or entrepreneurship lessons during his education.
“There was no real-life stuff when I was in high school – that’s why Junior Achievement is so important to have in my classroom,” said Bas. “It’s a way to give kids access to learning actual skills they will need in the real world. They aren’t getting that in any of their other classes, and JA provides an opportunity to provide programs to build those skills.”
As someone who has been teaching for the last 25-plus years, Bas knows how challenging it can be to find these hands-on programs that teach students about planning their future.
“You can’t get this [JA] anywhere else,” said Bas. “Junior Achievement formalizes their programs into direct instruction, practical application. As an educator, you can take broad concepts and dial them into the curriculum, and build something that is directly applicable to the classroom today.”
Since taking over the ACE program at HRHS, Bas has implemented 53 JA programs into his curriculum. Just this past school year, five of his classes participated in both the JA Stock Market Challenge and JA Take Stock in Your Future.
One of Bas’s favorite memories came from the JA Stock Market Challenge. One of his student teams came in first place, and because of the experience, one of the team members was motivated to get his real estate license while still in high school. The student is now attending the University of Kansas studying finance, and he has already started his own company.
“The JA Stock Market Challenge enticed him down the road of finance,” said Bas. “Because of that success, he applied that to his career choices and has excelled in the world of finance. I absolutely attribute that to what Junior Achievement gave to him and our program.”
Bas may have never planned to be teaching an ACE program when he chose to become an educator, but they say everything happens for a reason. He has embraced the opportunities JA has given his students and knows how much of an impact the programs have had on them both in and out of the classroom.
“There are so many offerings within JA that you can find and implement into your curriculum,” shared Bas. “It lets kids build transferable skills for any job they want to have and helps them imagine themselves in different careers. It should be in every classroom.”