December 17, 2019 10:52 pm

As any Junior Achievement (JA) student would tell you, JA volunteers embody what it means to motivate others and give back to the community as role models. Through the JA High School Leaders program, young people don’t have to wait until they’re adults to become mentors. Teachers are jumping at the opportunity to engage JA High School Leaders as volunteers in JA classrooms, and here’s why:

1. Students have a chance to see the world beyond their school

During their junior year, Silver Creek Leadership Academy (SCLA) students hone in on the idea of community leadership. Their JA High School Leaders service-learning project doesn’t just get them outside of their day-to-day school routine, but it also teaches them how to become active, contributing members of society at large.

SCLA Program Director Carrie Adams says, “It’s important for students to step outside themselves and understand empathy and different perspectives; to get out into the community and do something that’s real and positive. They can’t necessarily do that every day in their high school world…JA gives them the ability to step back and have perspective. I think it’s powerful. It helps them understand the bigger picture.”

There’s an equal benefit for the elementary school kids as well. For example, Alpine Elementary School (Alpine) is an International Baccalaureate school, which means that they focus on creating successful global citizens through education. First grade teacher Suzanne Simon was thrilled to have JA High School Leaders come into her classroom and bring her school’s values to life, including collaboration and fostering a sense of community.

Overall, by taking the time to volunteer with kids in neighboring schools, high school kids begin to understand what it means to leverage their leadership abilities for the greater good. “It’s all about building empathetic leaders who are aware of what’s happening around them,” Adams says.

2. The classroom comes to life.

Strong leadership takes practice, which is why young people need to exercise their leadership muscles in a hands-on way.

“The JA High School Leaders program has just been great for our curriculum with some real-world experience,” says Juliette Forbes, a teacher at SCLA. “JA in a Day gives them an opportunity to stand in front of a full group of students and be in that leadership role…learning how to engage a group, get people excited about your passion or cause, and bring people on board.”

Plus, the younger kids look up to the older kids, so when JA High School Leaders reinforce learning concepts like career-readiness, those lessons are likely to stick with elementary school students.

“That’s the part our kids latch onto…they realize it’s not just their teacher saying these things, it’s real people – other kids – who are saying the same thing,” says Simon. “It was also really unique for the high school students to add their perspective. It’s a time in their lives when they’re thinking about where they’re going to college and making choices based on their interests…our kids were able to see and understand that we have a lot of choices in our lives and jobs.”

Adams also saw the way the elementary school kids became more excited at school when JA High School Leaders presented JA activities. She says, “It even transcends the conversation about finances. The elementary school kids see the high school kids as superstars. There’s an element of listening and learning that happens on a higher level.”

3. It gives young leaders the confidence and self-awareness they need.

Presenting to a JA class creates an opportunity for teens to find their voice whether they’re experienced public speakers or not.

“Some of the kids are natural leaders who love to be in front of a group, and then there are those who don’t, but it’s equally as good of an opportunity for the ones who tend to be quieter so they can step up and take that lead role,” Forbes says. “It’s a great environment for them to take that risk. They gain confidence that they can, from start to finish, take on a group and lead them somewhere.”

The JA High School Leaders program also creates the space for students’ self-reflection so they can put skills into action, because every leader has special qualities they use to make an impact. According to Adams, “Leading JA in a Day is a great opportunity for students to see where their interests lie. It helps them hone in on their strengths and really determine how they can use their strengths as a leader. They are transported in front of other people, and they learn how to use skills that their high school peers not be trained in. We do it deliberately and purposefully.”

To request a JA program in your classroom or school, visit www.JAColorado.org/Educators

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