- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Edward J. Grenier III, president and chief executive officer of Junior Achievement of the National Capital Area.

Q: What’s the mission of Junior Achievement?

A: We understand the importance of asking a child not just what they have learned in school, but what they will do with what they have learned. What we found is that by opening a child’s mind to the possibility of future achievement, we provide hope and focus that makes learning more relevant and inspiring. The mission of Junior Achievement ensures that the principles that make our economy free and open to all are clear to future generations.

Our mission simply is to show children how obtainable success can be in this country — in any form they can dream. We deliver our mission to more than 28,000 children in our region by placing thousands of adult volunteer mentors in classrooms to inspire young people to learn the economics of life.

Q: What types of programs does Junior Achievement offer?

A: Junior Achievement offers programs starting as early as kindergarten, where children learn how they personally fit into the economy, through high school, where youth learn complex concepts, such as economics, personal finance, budgeting and interviewing skills. For example, one of Junior Achievement’s middle-school programs, “The Economics of Staying in School,” explains the economic benefits of education. In addition, “Personal Economics” focuses on personal skills and interest, career options, and personal and family financial management.

In high school, students are exposed to “Success Skills,” which develops their interpersonal and problem-solving skills necessary for the workplace. Junior Achievement’s “Personal Finance” helps students make informed decisions about the effective use of income to reach personal financial goals.

In elementary school, for example, second-graders explore the interdependent role of workers in a community and how taxes play an important part in funding the needs of the overall community. In sixth grade, the program “Our World” focuses on imports and exports and the role of foreign exchange, which helps brings to life what would otherwise be an intimidating business section in the newspaper.

And one of the programs we are extremely excited about is our partnership with the Washington Redskins in “4th & Life,” a program that shows high school football players the correlation between the skills they use on the field and those skills needed to be successful in the workplace, like discipline, learning the plays, being on time, teamwork, camaraderie. The program also opens these players’ eyes to other careers in sports, because not everybody can be Darryl Green. They learn about careers in marketing, player personnel, and the financial side of the business. We started the program four years ago and the community has fully embraced it.

Q: What has the reaction been from school administrators?

A: Collectively, the school systems welcome us and fully endorse Junior Achievement because we show their students the connection between success in school and success in life. Our local territory covers a good part of Maryland, Washington, D.C., all of Northern Virginia and good part of the Commonwealth. All of the superintendents in the region sit on our board of directors.

Q: How are the programs delivered to the students?

A: We have age-appropriate lesson plans that Junior Achievement mentors use when they go into the classrooms. When we train our mentors, we specifically show them and encourage them to bring their real life experiences into the classrooms and share with the children.

A result of a Junior Achievement mentor going into a classroom is the broader support of the business for the specific schools. We recruit volunteers and mentors from businesses and train and place them in classrooms throughout the region. These mentors bring their real-life experiences into the classrooms to help the children connect what they are doing in school to their eventual role in the workplace.

While we have a very well-developed curriculum at all grade levels and they are fully endorsed in the systems, we do not consider ourselves booksellers; rather, we use these tools to place a caring adult in front of enthusiastic children. We’re creating mentor-protege relationships.

Q: Are you developing any new programs for children?

A: On February 2, we are launching “Groundhog Job Shadow Day” program, where more than a million children across the country will shadow employees in their places of business. Teenagers will be paired with professionals who work in careers of their interest and will spend a good portion of the day learning to answer the question “Why do I have to learn this?”

The youth quickly realize how math applies to tracking the costs in a department or how to budget their money for lunch for a week. They also see how important it is to write a concise e-mail in the workplace. We anticipate within the next three to four years that the program will be offered to close to 10,000 students per year in the region.

Q: What does Junior Achievement need?

A: I liken our needs to a three-legged stool, as each leg carries equal weight in making the stool function. In our case, we need the endorsement from the school systems, funding from the broad community, and volunteer mentors from all walks of life. Without one of the three, we would have big challenges.

Demand in the schools for our programs significantly outpaces our ability to recruit and place mentors. So, our most critical need right now is for volunteers. To put this into perspective, this year we will send close to 800 mentors into classrooms around the region. If an additional 800 people showed up at our door tomorrow, we would have a spot for them to teach.

Q:How have you seen this program grow since you became CEO eight years ago?

A: We have a great staff, and our success really is a team effort. As I think back to 1996, when we reached a total of 9,600 children across the region, I’m so proud to have led this organization that now mentors more than 28,000 youth per year. We’ve come a long way.

Our program mix back then was heavily weighted to elementary schools. Since then, we’ve worked hard to balance our program delivery across elementary, middle and high school students, as well as evenly throughout the many counties we serve.

I see big things ahead for Junior Achievement. We’re in the second year of a five-year strategic plan to expand our services to 80,000 children locally, and we’re well on our way to surpassing that goal. That excites me.

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: I’m asked that question frequently, and it’s fairly simple for me. Seeing the light bulb go on and the twinkle in the eyes of a youngster when he or she ‘gets it’ makes all the hard work worth it. There’s really no better feeling.

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