ROGERS — Living in the backyard of the world’s largest retailer has its advantages.
For one, talent from around the world has moved to the area for employment with Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club and now calls northwest Arkansas their home.
So it made perfect sense to Robbie Estes, director of the controller’s office at Wal-Mart, to connect some of these individuals with a program that is all about economics and business.
After a little tweaking, Estes and others had the nationally acclaimed Junior Achievement program up and running for the first time last year at St. Vincent de Paul School in Rogers. Then, on May 19, the school hosted its second “JA in a Day” event, this year expanding the day to include kindergarten classes as well as first-eighth grade.
Volunteers committed their day to delivering interactive and experiential lessons comprised of concepts and skills tailored to each grade level. Students were educated about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
Estes, a parishioner and parent at St. Vincent de Paul, said what makes this relationship unique is the curriculum, mainly designed for public schools, is being taught in a Catholic school.
Currently, the JA program is in seven of the area’s public elementary and high schools. But SVdP is the first private school in the area. Our Lady of the Holy Souls School in Little Rock also hosts JA Day, currently serving five classrooms.
“It’s a pretty radical idea,” Estes said, “but we adapted it to be beneficial for both the school and the JA program.”
Initially, the idea was to bring the program to one class at the school, but Estes said within three days there were more than 20 parents volunteering to help and teach that day. Fortunately, Bill Flescher, another parent, and Karla Thielemier, principal, recruited Estes who had taught JA in a number of schools to help.
“I know the value kids are taking away from the program and the financial literacy they gain,” Estes said.
What makes this work, he said, is all of the volunteers for the day are Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club employees. Through the Wal-Mart Volunteerism Always Pays (VAP) program, employees who donate a specified amount of time to a non-profit in their community are eligible to receive a grant from Wal-Mart that goes back to the non-profit.
A little collaboration on this unique relationship made it a win-win for both parties. JA received a significant percentage of the donation and SVdP benefitted from the knowledge and experience of 62 volunteers from the worldwide retailer.
“Our students look forward to this day all year,” Thielemier said. “They enjoy seeing how the reading, science and math that they are learning throughout the year is applied in a business sense from ‘real world’ volunteers.”
Shannon Frederick, director of global talent management with Wal-Mart, taught second-graders for the day.
“Our lesson was about decision-making and making choices,” said Frederick, a parent at the school. “We talked about how a community comes together to make decisions, the voting process and even the past election.”
Frederick said she appreciated that the lesson could also include talking about their Church and God.
“The day’s information can spin off to other teachable moments,” Estes added.
“Our programs help students connect education to goal attainment and provide volunteer role models to look up,” said Tara Aston, Northwest Arkansas regional coordinator for Junior Achievement. “A recent study found that JA alumni are more likely to have a high school diploma and increased household income. We’re grateful to the school and these volunteers for serving as role models and for making this program possible for these students.”
“Education is one of the most important activities we can share with the next generation,” Estes said. “JA provides a perfect venue for each of us to help make a positive impact towards the future, paying it forward in the truest sense.”
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