Many of Arizona’s public school kids are learning financial literacy through this program

group of students sitting at desks in classroom

(Photo courtesy of Junior Achievement of Arizona)

By Robert Gundran

April 1, 2024

“What we are doing is prioritizing the needs of the students who need us the most. The students who might not otherwise have access to this type of learning.”

The American Rescue Plan helped a nonprofit youth organization scale a career-readiness program from just a few thousand students to almost 100,000 with a $2 million grant.

“We took a formerly offline program that served about 5,000 high school students, primarily in Maricopa and Pima County, every year,” said Anne Landers, chief operating officer of Junior Achievement of Arizona. “We’ve scaled that to reach 90,000 learners…through a virtual career exploration program.”

Junior Achievement of Arizona helps over 170,000 students each year through a variety of programs.


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One such program is JA Inspire, a career exploration and readiness program that helps students from middle school up to age 25 explore careers. It also looks to equip those students with skills needed for those careers.

Landers said the money from the American Rescue Plan helped Junior Achievement reach students where they are, and helps them find future success through career readiness.

Part of the government money went to providing equitable access.

“What we are doing is prioritizing the needs of the students who need us the most,” Landers said. “The students who might not otherwise have access to this type of learning.”


What is JA Inspire?

JA Inspire is a virtual career exploration and readiness program. The program is on-demand and is entirely virtual.

It involves webinars on things like cyber and digital literacy, leadership, getting a job as a first-generation immigrant, how to fill out a FAFSA, and leadership.

The program has virtual experiences where students can explore virtual career booths, look at videos on career pathways, and interact with local members of the business community.

Landers said she saw first-hand how JA Inspire can change students’ mindsets and attitudes about their future. She said she asked a group of seventh-graders what they wanted to be when they grow up.

“Instantly over half of the class raised their hand and said they wanted to be mechanics because that’s what they’re seeing in their community. Absolutely a worthy and meaningful job in the future,” she said. “What I instantly saw though, is that they were looking at their future through a porthole.”

The program showed those kids that they could be a mechanic, or they could be mechanical engineers, or any number of things that were part of that industry but not limited to just one profession.


Government helps

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed in 2021. It gave Americans who made $75,000 or less $1,400, allocated $350 billion in assistance to state and local governments, gave $14 billion for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, and put $130 billion into schools to help them reopen.

The American Rescue Plan also expanded the child tax credit, gave billions to small businesses, expanded eligibility for the Affordable Care Act, and included $300 billion in unemployment benefits.

The Arizona Department of Education gave over 30 organizations money from the American Rescue Plan.

Junior Achievement of Arizona was just one of three organizations that received money to help students with career readiness.

Here are some highlights:

  • $7.3 million to ASU to get teachers to rural parts of the state
  • $973,000 to Phoenix Conservatory of Music to increase extracurricular access to low-income youth
  • $9.9 million to Maricopa County School Superintendent’s Office to equip teachers with skills to help kids who have pandemic-related learning loss
  • $1.2 million to the University of Arizona for its Native American student outreach program
  • $961,000 to Arizona PBS for its pre-kindergarten summer school literacy program

Government funding helped one organization expand from serving a few thousand high school students to helping almost 100,000 young people from middle school to age 25. Imagine how much assistance students got across the board with that much organizational funding.


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  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.


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