Ten-year-old Jackson Stanley wants to be the president of the United States someday.
The Rodgers Forge fourth-grader spent four hours on Friday, March 6, getting his first taste of elected office while serving as the mayor of BizTown, a simulated learning tool in the form of a small city offered by Junior Achievement of Central Maryland. The program prepares fourth- and fifth-grade students to enter the workforce and operate responsibly in a free enterprise economy via hands-on experience.
Jackson diligently kept track of the 41 constituents who came to visit him at BizTown’s City Hall, a small office in the nonprofit’s Owings Mills headquarters. He’s been “busy, very busy,” he said.
“I’ve been signing a lot of checks. I’ve been basically signing everything that comes on this desk,” Jackson said from behind the mayor’s desk.
Soon, the BizTown program will be taught out of a much larger space as one component of an expanded, interactive learning space when Junior Achievement opens its doors to its new headquarters in Lansdowne in October.
Junior Achievement of Central Maryland, a nonprofit that has offered a wide range of workforce development training for Maryland students since 1957, is relocating from its Owings Mills location to a new 28,800-square-foot headquarters at 1725 Twin Springs Road, a move its representatives say will dramatically scale up the roughly two dozen student-focused programs.
The new facility will more than double the capacity of Junior Achievement’s current 12,000-square-foot building on Red Run Boulevard, where the organization has operated for 20 years, said Jennifer Bodensiek, the nonprofit’s president and chief executive officer. The move will triple student capacity in the facility from 10,000 to 30,000 students, Bodensiek said.
The new building is already in construction in Merritt Properties’ Beltway Business Park, and is expected to be finished this summer, before programming begins in the fall.
Just last week, the North Carolina-based Truist Foundation awarded a $775,000 grant to support construction of the new facility. The grant by the foundation, which invests in nonprofits, is the largest one-time pledge in Junior Achievement of Central Maryland’s history.
Junior Achievement Worldwide is a volunteer-based nonprofit working in over 100 countries, offering students in kindergarten through 12th grade courses in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness, according to its website.
BizTown, which is paired with a specialized curriculum taught in partnering schools, will take up 10,000 square feet in the new Lansdowne building, and serves as a precursor to the nonprofit’s new Finance Park program for middle school students, also planned to take up 10,000 square feet in the new facility, Bodensiek said.
Finance Park “takes [BizTown] and it bumps it up a notch,” said Katie Ballance, Junior Achievement of Central Maryland’s marketing director.
Students in that program “talk about housing, auto, insurance, clothing and dining out. They get a real-life scenario — how much money they make, how many kids — and work that budget through all the categories, just like adults do.”
“It’s very real world for the kids and very hands-on, and they’re just really excited about the whole curriculum that goes with it,” including learning about investment and what it means to be a professional, said Rodgers Forge teacher Jennifer Erdman. “They were having a lot of fun with it.”
A 2018 Gallup Communities in Schools survey found that only 3% of Americans said high school graduates are “very prepared” to succeed in college, and 5% reported believing graduating seniors are “very prepared” to succeed in the workforce.
“All students need access to workforce development skills,” Bodensiek said, but “we put a lot of significant resources in underserved areas where they may not have access.”
JA Central Maryland partners with 60 Baltimore County public schools and 127 schools in Baltimore City, and works with 8,500 county students and 22,000 city school students. Junior Achievement serves students from nine Maryland public school systems as well as community organizations, home-schooled students and private schools, according to the nonprofit’s 2019 impact report.
The Lansdowne headquarters is meant to be an easier “access point” for students in neighboring Howard and Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore City, Bodensiek said.
Acknowledging the county school system’s “growing relationship” with the nonprofit, school Superintendent Darryl L. Williams said in a news release that he has "seen firsthand how JA BizTown and JA Finance Park spark new learning for our youngsters and support the development of both knowledge and skills for career and college success.”
The new headquarters also will house a new career center in which middle and high school students will have the chance to explore various career paths in the state as well as start and run their own businesses in an entrepreneurship cafe; and a multiuse space “to foster community, business and education partnerships,” according to a news release.
The construction will cost the nonprofit $3 million total, funded through corporate donations, state funding and foundation support, Bodensiek said.
Maryland General Assembly House Speaker Adrienne Jones said in a statement that the new regional center is “a major step in our work to ensure that every student in Maryland is college and career ready” by equipping “students with practical life skills that they will use well into adulthood.”
“I’m thrilled that they will have a new home in Baltimore County,” said Jones, a Lansdowne High School graduate.
According to the nonprofit, Junior Achievement alumni secure employment at a higher rate than their nonparticipating peers and are 30% more likely to graduate from college. Students are 67% more likely to earn an advanced degree, the organization says.
Maureen Lewis, a parent volunteer with Rodgers Forge, said she was surprised about the conversations she’s been having with her son Cooper, who participated in the BizTown program on March 6.
Her son has demonstrated how to endorse checks and asks questions about investment and Social Security, “honestly, things I didn’t even know I could talk to my son about,” Lewis said.