Simply put, Junior Achievement (JA) wouldn’t be possible without the support of volunteers. They are role models for students, teaching them about the “economics of life,” and helping them to understand the fundamental connection between school and success. Volunteers open new pathways for youth and leave feeling proud, energized and hopeful about a better future for our young people.
So what can you do as a volunteer to make the most out of your own experience? We reached out to some of our most experienced JA volunteers and staff members to find the answers, and here’s what we discovered.
1. Mix it up
“You may have loved teaching second graders at JA in a Day, but you might like teaching middle school students how to budget even more!” – Meg Chapman, JA Senior Manager of Programs & Curriculum
Take advantage of the variety of JA programs, because each one offers something unique. There are countless volunteer opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom, with kindergarteners all the way through 12th graders. Volunteering expands your worldview, so you might be pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm you develop for different schools, teachers, programs and students. Consider stepping outside of your routine by working at a school in a neighborhood where you haven’t been before, or with a wider range of age groups.
2. Use volunteering for your own professional development
“You’ll build a sense of confidence…teaching with JA gets you to think about how you can make things interesting and fun.” – Matt Schwartz, JA volunteer
In 2001, Matt Schwartz volunteered with JA for the first time and cultivated a lifelong passion. During college he struggled with public speaking, so his communications professor suggested he work in classrooms with kids to gain practice. He put this advice into action and has since developed incredible self-assurance in his professional life, as well as a renewed appreciation for learning. Because he is now more confident and curious, Schwartz has gained experience in nearly every JA program with all ages.
Professional development is not uncommon among volunteers like Schwartz. In fact, 63% report that volunteering with JA helped sharpen their public speaking skills. Volunteers also see improvements in their business skills such as leadership, providing positive reinforcement, motivating individuals, working with a culturally diverse group, and interpersonal communication.
3. Collaborate with your classroom’s teacher
“Give the teacher guidance on where you want their help. They have familiar discipline, organization, and attention-grabbing strategies in their classroom. Use them to your advantage!” – Melissa Stock, JA volunteer
Establish a relationship with your classroom’s teacher by introducing yourself via email a few days in advance, and together you can discuss best practices to create a productive learning environment. Usually they will have specific tools to signal to students when it’s time to quiet down. Ask the teacher at the beginning of class what you can do to grab students’ attention and use these methods throughout the day. First-time volunteers sometimes worry about classroom management, but don’t worry – teachers are there to step in and handle any discipline if necessary.
4. Take it easy and have fun
“Show enthusiasm for being a volunteer with your students. It’s less important to be a perfect presenter or a perfect teacher. What you do want to do is show that you’re genuinely happy and excited.”– Kyle Leary, JA volunteer
Teaching expertise is not necessary for volunteers. JA brings the real world into the classroom, which means that your life experience is your greatest asset! If students are reluctant to participate at first, don’t be discouraged. The activities are designed to be active and collaborative, which will certainly draw their engagement over time. JA provides all the training and materials that volunteers need in order to succeed, so all you need to do is be yourself, be positive, and the rest will come naturally.
It’s time to jump in!
- New volunteers: Read more about JA programs and submit a volunteer interest form here