FORT WAYNE — A new space for Junior Achievement means a new place for East Noble students to get a foundation for finance.

Wednesday was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building, located just north of I-69 on Coldwater Road in Fort Wayne. The ceremony also included the building’s dedication to Ian and Mimi Rolland.

While adults dodged rain outside for the official ribbon cutting, fifth-graders from Avilla Elementary and Wayne Center Elementary were putting the space to use at BizTown.

It was an all-day field trip for the kids, one that they had been anticipating for a while.

“We spent a month on lessons,” Joantha Smith, fifth-grade teacher at Avilla Elementary, said.

Those lessons aren’t what you’d typically think about fifth-graders learning. In addition to the regular curriculum, students learned about operating businesses in detail — things like repaying loans, balancing a checkbook and pricing items.

Then, they took the trip to Fort Wayne and put their skills to the test, this being the first time these fifth-graders got the chance to.

“This is our first experience, because the sixth grade at Avilla always came to BizTown, so this year, the torch has been passed to fifth grade,” Smith said.

BizTown takes place in its own room at the JA building. In it, different storefronts of actual businesses, like Vera Bradley, Wells Fargo and Pizza Hut all operate in a mock economy.

Before they participate in it, the students each know their roles and must prepare to run their businesses. For example, a student who is assigned the CEO of Vera Bradley has to price his or her goods correctly to be able to both make sales and also pay back business loans.

The kids also are treated like actual workers, too. They decide when to take a break from work and how much money to spend on things like popcorn or drinks.

All the hard work paid off, fifth-grade Avilla Elementary teacher Anne Hudson said, when the kids started calling the shots at BizTown.

“I’ve heard positive (reactions). Some students came up and said the lessons now make sense that we did in class,” Hudson said. “Some of the students who maybe weren’t buying into it in the beginning really took off with it today.”

Karen Cooper, director of JA BizTown and entrepreneurial initiatives, said that connection between classwork and real work is the goal of the immersive program.

“Ultimately, we just want them to get a taste of what it’s like to work a job, the importance of coming back to your job after a break on time, working as a team,” Cooper said.

And while Cooper said some schools emulate something like this inside the classroom, the resources and structure JA provides with BizTown is unmatched.

“There’s a lot of schools that will do classroom economies, where the kids work a job in the classroom and get paid in some sort of bucks for the classroom,” Cooper said. “But you can’t fully experience what you do here in this facility.”

BizTown is a place outside the classroom where kids’ actions directly affect their outcomes, and Cooper said that personal responsibility is integral to the learning process.

“Sometimes, there’s small failures, and those are really powerful lessons,” Cooper said.

This was actually the sixth day BizTown had been operating in its new space, which Smith said she and her students were impressed by and made it easy to visualize what the future holds for her students.

“The facility is a wow factor,” Smith said. “I think it’s an eye opener for future career opportunities or an appreciation for those that work.”

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