GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Yanitza Rivera, 16, remembers the first time she prepared to teach a class of kindergartners a lesson about their community.
“I was really nervous, thinking what am I going to do with 18 kindergartners?” the Pleasantville High School junior said. “But when I got there I realized: I can do this.”
She’s going to be doing it again Friday as a member of the Pleasantville High School Junior Achievement High School Heroes program.
Rivera and more than 50 other students from six area high schools got their own lessons in career success at a Junior Achievement workshop Tuesday hosted by the Stockton University Center for Economic and Financial Literacy.
Junior Achievement New Jersey, a national program created to teach students in grades K-12 about business, economics and work readiness, began in 2004 and has grown steadily. Last year, it reached more than 57,000 students in more than 250 schools statewide.
Most of those schools are in central and northern New Jersey. Senior program director Celeste Hardrick said she is working to expand the program in South Jersey.
“We are looking to develop partnerships with businesses and schools,” she said.
Tuesday’s workshop at Stockton focused on career success and the skills employers want from students as they graduate and enter the workforce.
Junior Achievement education and training specialist Christy Tighe talked to students about working as part of a team and building their own personal brand.
During lunch, students created a chart of their high and low priorities for a career, including salary, whether they preferred working indoors or out, in a city or suburb, and whether they wanted a job that involved a lot of travel.
When asked for their three top priorities, many students chose having a high salary and good benefits, but others also opted for travel or a job with creativity.
At Pleasantville High School, the Junior Achievement program is coordinated through the school’s JROTC program. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ret. Ron Tuczak said the goals of both programs are compatible.
“The mission of JROTC is to make you a better citizen,” he said. “We look for leadership opportunities for our students, such as going to the elementary schools for the day to teach the younger students the JA lessons.”
All materials are provided by JA, and age-appropriate lessons range from learning about how communities are built and governed to developing their own doughnut business.
“The kids have so much fun, they don’t even realize they’re learning,” he said.
Pleasantville junior Zhane Tyler, 16, said younger students look up to them as role models. They wear their JROTC uniforms when they visit the elementary schools for the JA program, and she has learned to take her responsibilities seriously.
“They want to be like us,” she said.
Jean Abbott, an accounting and finance professor at Stockton and coordinator of the Center for Economic and Financial Literacy, said she attended a previous JA event in Pleasantville and was impressed with the curriculum.
“It’s engaging, it moves along nicely and it focuses on work-readiness themes,” she said.
St. Joseph High School student Shane Leyden, 18, of Atco, Camden County, said he’s applying to the Naval Academy, and the interview tips he learned will come in handy for the interview he has coming up with U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
“Like turning your phone off and not checking it during the interview,” he said.
Schools or businesses interested in the Junior Achievement program can contact Celeste Hardrick at 609-419-0404, ext. 106, or email@example.com. More information on Junior Achievement New Jersey is available at janj.org.