Fifth-graders at Brownsville Area Elementary School took a look at their futures last week when several area business leaders visited their classrooms to introduce them to career pathways.

Junior Achievement (JA) of Western Pennsylvania held a “One Day” event at Brownsville on Wednesday, recruiting professionals from local businesses and organizations to speak to students centered on the organization’s three main subjects: career readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

“Down the road, everyone’s going to need to think about what they want to be when they grow up,” said Victoria Baker, JA education program manager. “This gets them thinking. It gives them options.”

Baker said the traditional JA program comes to a school once a week over five or six weeks, but a “One Day” event is offered to elementary students as an introduction to the entire program in one go.

Over the course of 2½ hours, fifth-grade students cycled through five sessions that examined entrepreneurship, careers and the skills they will need to be contributing members of the workforce.

The goal of Junior Achievement is to help young people learn and prepare for economic success after graduation.

“Programs like Junior Achievement, we go in as volunteers and we bring the real world to them,” said Gary Carter, owner of Vern Allen Tire Co. of Uniontown and a Junior Achievement volunteer for 37 years.

Carter said he has heard many success stories from students to whom he has spoken over the years as they take the lessons learned in JA sessions with them into the workforce.

Wednesday marked the first JA “One Day” held in Fayette County, and a hopeful resurgence for the nonprofit organization in area schools, said Jennifer Knepper, executive director of the JA Alleghenies Region office based in Johnstown.

Knepper’s office is responsible for JA activities in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana and Somerset counties, although the organization has struggled in recent years to find volunteers from area businesses to visit local schools to speak to students, she said.

“We lost connection here,” said Knepper, citing the loss of several community members from the JA board of directors for various reasons. She said the organization is currently trying to regrow its local board.

“We just need to get people to understand that we’re still here making an impact,” Knepper said.

“Our biggest need is awareness,” said Baker. “We need individuals to get involved. With awareness will come community mentors that will want to share their time and talent with these kids.”

Brownsville Area Elementary Principal Frank Berdar said Junior Achievement approached the school about the opportunity to hold a “One Day” event.

“It sounded like good opportunity for students to get started with them into middle school and beyond,” said Berdar.

The curriculum for the event, called JA Our Nation, provided students with information about the free market system and how it serves as an economic engine for businesses and careers. It also introduced the need for entrepreneurial and innovative thinking in order to meet the requirements of high-growth, high-demand careers in a global economy.

The program emphasized leadership, teamwork and decision-making skills.

“It exposes them to what is expected of them as they become teenagers and enter the real world, hearing it firsthand from professionals,” said Berdar.

Berdar said the district plans to get high school students involved with the program as Junior Achievement mentors for elementary school students. High school students will work with younger students on a monthly basis for the remainder of the school year to teach and reinforce the fundamentals of the JA program.

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