My JA Experience: One and Counting

16 Oct 2013


When Brian Dalziel of the Iowa Lakes Corridor asked me to be a Junior Achievement volunteer this year, I probably looked at him very dazed and confused. Prior to my time at the Corridor, I had never heard of JA. For those of you much like myself, Junior Achievement is a volunteer-delivered, kindergarten – 12th grade program that fosters work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills. The course is designed to use experiential learning to inspire students to dream big and reach their full potential.

ja logo

Needless to say, my confused look disappeared in a flash as my ears perked up to the thought of being back in Storm Lake Elementary. I spent a lot of time with the SL School District while in college and was anxious to see all the kiddos again, whether they liked it or not. :) Brian assigned me to Bryanna Nissen’s second grade class. Shortly after finding out about my assignment, I went through a short, 40 minute training session & then met with Bryanna to sort out the logistics of our time together.

JA assembly line

When I first arrived to Mrs. Nissen’s class, I was pretty nervous. I had done all the prep work needed for the day, but was unsure about how the lesson would go and if the kids would cooperate (to top it all off, it was a Friday). Day one consisted of introductions of myself and of the JA program. Once I felt the students had a good grasp of what we were aiming to accomplish, we began discussing all the various businesses that make up a community. I started off by asking them a question.

“Can you name some stores that we have here in Storm Lake?” – Me

“Walmart!” – Student

“Okay, now can you tell me why Walmart is important for our community?” – Me

“So we can go there to buy things we need, like toys.” – Student

How much does that make you want to be 7 again? It’s funny to think that my perspective on life was once that simple; it makes me want to be all over.

JA community

My next session was the following Tuesday. Thankfully my fears had subsided because I was in for a treat. It was “Donut Day” in the elementary, and my students were about to learn all about two kinds of production: unit production and the assembly line. The students were grouped into 5′s and began making donuts given the type of method they were assigned. The trick was, they only had 2 minutes to complete as many donuts as possible. Once the time was up, I assigned one “inspector” to look over the goodies and determine whether or not they met the specifications to be sold in the bakery. This sparked a discussion regarding defects and what happens when something is poorly made. It was no surprise that the assembly line teams produced more quality donuts than those of the unit-production teams. It was good for the students to visually see the difference in the two methods and why one works better than the other.

JA dounuts

Day three was all about government workers and how they receive money – through taxes, of course. I pulled out a few students from the group to be my government workers, myself included (I was the tax collector), and had the rest pretend they were employees of the Donut Shop from the previous lesson. We talked about how the employees of the Donut Shop get their paycheck each week (through the sales of donuts) and then about how government workers, like the librarian and the teacher, get their money. Taxes! What a fun topic for a Friday morning.

From there, each student got five $1 bills as payment for all their hard work producing donuts. We focused on the positives of taxes, rather than all the bad things we generally hear about them. Without them, our lovely firefighters, mayors and military men wouldn’t get any money to pay for the all the toys they want at Walmart. ;) Once each student got “paid,” I then went around and collected $2 from everyone so they could understand what it was like to give money to the government each pay period. Some of those little ones did not want to hand over their hard-earned cash. It was pretty funny.

JA taxes

Session three was also my 23rd birthday (I’m old, I know). I must have mentioned this to Bryanna sometime during one of our meetings because I walked in to a bunch of “happy birthday’s!” and hugs from the students. They also gave me the sweetest card. I definitely felt the love.

JA bday card

The next session to follow was the next week. It played off the previous lesson regarding government workers, except this time we focused solely on the mayor. The students were about to take part in election day. In the given scenario, three mayors were running for office and wanted to bring a different kind of store to the community: a pet store, a music store or a toy store. The students gathered into groups and discussed the pros and cons of the type of store they were assigned. Once they had a sufficient list, I asked them to come to the front and share their thoughts. After much discussion, ballots were handed out and the class was asked to vote for the store they wished to bring. The pet store won by a landslide, surprisingly (I was expecting toys to rule all). Each student got an “I Voted!” sticker afterward; they were pumped – I mean, who doesn’t love stickers?

JA voting

My final time with Mrs. Nissen’s class was just last Friday. This lesson was short, sweet & to the point. We talked about how money flows through the community. I had a group of volunteers demonstrate with a quarter to the lyrics of a song that JA provided. They also received a poster that outlined the path of the quarter. The class was encouraged to follow along the quarter’s path to see where it ended up.

Upon completion of the activity, it was graduation time. Bryanna called out each student’s name, they came up to shake my hand while looking me in the eye (a valuable skill to learn) and then received their diploma (all while their classmates were clapping & cheering them on). They were so excited to be honored in such a fancy fashion. Afterwards, we took a group picture to remember our wonderful experience.


What an adventure; not only for the students, but for me, as well. I wasn’t expecting to get as much out of my time with the class as I did. JA is just another one of the steps the Corridor takes in order to help foster and grow youth entrepreneurship in our region. I think it’s safe to say we all learned something from our time together.

I had such a good time, I have already volunteered to help at the 4th grade level coming up in a couple of weeks. If you’d like to get involved, please contact Brian Dalziel ( or 712.264.3474) for more information.

Thanks, Mrs. Nissen’s second graders. You rock!

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- Alexa Guessford