Rosemount Elementary's fifth-graders have prepped for weeks for this field trip: drafting résumés, interviewing and creating business plans.
By the time they boarded the bus Monday morning, they each had been assigned a job — banker, engineer, CEO — and were dressed for a day of role-playing work in collared shirts, ties and sweaters.
They were one of the first classes to experience the new JA BizTown — one of two experiential learning labs that are part of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest's new $20 million headquarters in St. Paul.
The nonprofit's new location in a renovated building on University Avenue replaces its old Maplewood facility and more than doubles the learning lab space primarily used for school field trips. More than 30,000 children and teens are expected to visit each year.
"We are so excited about having this shiny new space," said Lori Dossett, the nonprofit's spokeswoman. "It's fun to hear the kids call it the best field trip of the year. They get to act like adults for the day. They show up ready for their job."
Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, formed in a 1982 merger of the Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters that date back to 1949, teaches children and teens about finance, business and career readiness.
Its new building, which officially opened to students in January, was paid for with donations, including $4 million from Minnesotans Jim and Pat Hemak. Jim Hemak participated in Junior Achievement in high school and grew up to become one of the largest Great Clips franchise owners in the country.
A simulated Main Street
The two main attractions at the new space are JA BizTown for elementary and middle-schoolers and JA Finance Park for high-schoolers. Each one offers a 12,000-square-foot simulated Main Street with 18 storefronts that provide students hands-on lessons.
In BizTown, students work in shops designed and sponsored by Twin Cities businesses including U.S. Bank, M.A. Mortenson Co. and UnitedHealthcare. Nearly all the shops are equipped with tablets, laptops, Smart boards and activities. One even has a 3-D printer.
"These are real jobs in our economy that students could be working at one day," said Jennifer Baldwin, Junior Achievement vice president of Capstone programs.
JA Finance Park teaches high-schoolers about personal finance, budgeting and careers. Students are randomly given a life scenario and salary — for instance, married engineer with two kids or single chef.
Living within a budget
Students then create a comprehensive budget including housing, food, child care, insurance and cellphone costs based on their income. When shopping for clothing, they can choose from three different price points — discount, department or designer.
"They learn how education correlates to income," Dossett said.
Rosemount Elementary fifth-graders have attended BizTown for several years at the old Maplewood site. The teachers, who spend weeks preparing students for the field trip, say they like that the new BizTown emphasizes science and technology jobs.
On Monday morning, the students monitored solar panels on the roof in real time at the Xcel Energy shop. At the Polaris shop, they used a Smart board to design a vehicle.
Students run their businesses, taking out loans and paying taxes. They receive salaries for their work, which they deposit in the bank and are able to spend. They also vote for a mayor and on ballot measures.
"The kids really take it seriously," said Rosemount fifth-grade teacher Amanda Otero. "They get to be citizens and be in a real-world economy."