by Mike Lee, Staff Writer
Jo Wise’s background is in nonprofit management. Management at the American Heart Association, director positions at City Arts Center and the Paseo Arts District, Wise’s wheelhouse is helping organizations help others.
That’s her comfort zone. But after being one of 500 people laid off when the economy went south a few years back, Wise found herself in front of a class of wide-eyed third graders.
“I don’t have kids and I don’t know why they thought I would be a good third-grade teacher,” Wise said of a friend who introduced her to Junior Achievement Oklahoma. “They appealed to my sensitive side and talked me into it.
“I just loved it.”
It’s been a little over two years now since Wise became the regional director of Junior Achievement Oklahoma, an organization that focuses on our future with volunteers who go into classrooms and teach real-world skills.
Junior Achievement’s volunteer-delivered, kindergarten-12th grade programs foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills, and use experiential learning to inspire students to dream big and reach their potential.
With the help of more than 213,000 volunteers, JA students develop the skills they need to experience the realities and opportunities of work and entrepreneurship in the 21st-century global marketplace.
Junior Achievement empowers young people to own their economic success. The programs educate young people to value free enterprise, business and economics through the support of teachers, parents, and volunteers in the classroom.
“I got so much personal satisfaction from it,” Wise said of the time she spent in the classroom. “I felt like I had done something really important. I never dreamt I would be in the nonprofit education business but it’s just been great.”
“We teach very practical information the kids don’t get anywhere else,” Wise continued. “They learn how to balance checkbooks, buy a car and how to budget. They learn how to think about jobs they want when they’re little and what they need to be studying for those jobs as they get older.”
From resumes, mock interviews – even business and job shadows – Junior Achievement prepares students.
Wise says volunteers are encouraged to share their own experiences so lessons really hit home. After all, learning from someone else’s mistakes can seriously shorten a learning curve.
“We try to bring relativity to what they’re being taught in the classroom,” she said.
Last year, Junior Achievement had 700 volunteers in Oklahoma classrooms. This year the goal is 750 and Wise says anyone can help.
“I’m a senior myself and I was semi-retired whenever I found this job,” Wise said. “(Seniors) make some of the best volunteers that we have.”
Junior Achievement provides hands-on experiences to help young people understand how the real-world works.
In partnership with business and educators, Junior Achievement helps educate students in personal finance and practical workplace skills, preparing them to pursue their careers as well as their dreams.
During the 2013-2014 school year Junior Achievement of Oklahoma:
* Helped teach more than 51,500 students relevant concepts of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
* Over 9,000 JA BizTown citizens
* Connected over 3,500 business & community volunteers to classrooms
* Awarded 6 scholarships to graduating JA students
* Over 1,100 students competed in the JA Investor Challenge
* Over 1,200 high school students learned work readiness skills through JA Job Shadow and JA Workplace Internships
Last year, Wise said more than 14,200 students were impacted. The goal is to reach 16,000 students this year.
Junior Achievement has a 79-percent return rate, meaning the vast majority of volunteers enjoy their experience and come back again.
“Most people aren’t teaching anything they don’t know about already themselves,” Wise said. “So it’s easy to incorporate their stories into it. It’s an extremely rewarding experience.”
And the majority of schools Junior Achievement works with are Title I schools, meaning a majority of the student population is on the free or reduced lunch program.
“They don’t have role models to look up to,” Wise said.
Those interested in volunteering can contact Wise directly at 405-235-3399 or go to www.jaok.org. Junior Achievement has offices in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
“Once I taught that third-grade class I thought I had missed my calling,” Wise said. “I couldn’t believe I was the age I was an I had never taught. I didn’t even know I had the aptitude for it.”