HAMMOND | Students at Charles N. Scott Middle School became residents of a virtual world on Tuesday that's meant to whisk them from life as middle school students to independent adults.
That virtual world is part of Junior Achievement Finance Park, a monthlong economics education program that uses lessons, workbooks and a computer program designed to simulate real-life financial situations.
On Tuesday, Denise Wright, Junior Achievement of Chicago associate director, introduced Scott Middle School students to the computer program. This is the first time JA Finance Park is available to Northwest Indiana schools and Scott Middle School is the first to premiere the program.
In the JA Finance Park virtual world, students created life-like computer avatars who are given careers and budgets. They also learned to use their salaries to buy cars, homes and deal with other expenses.
Wright said originally, Junior Achievement had a program where instead of using a computer, students would take a field trip to a live site where a small town was set up. At each station in the set, students would make career and budget decisions.
However, Wright said, there were no sites in the Chicago area where students could go. With the computer program, students can engage in the program from anywhere.
"The (computer program) reinforces the topics and gives kids a different way to learn something," Wright said. "It's a way to bring the real world into the classroom. This is the age of technology, this is the way kids are learning now."
Family Consumer Science teacher Beth Hobbs has been teaching career skills and financial literacy in the class, Preparing for College and Careers. She said having her students use JA Finance Park has "put all they learned this year into action."
"When the kids were introduced to it, they were like 'Wow, that's cool,'" Hobbs said. "I've always done the finance unit, but this goes above and beyond."
Diane Reyome, Centier Bank's financial capabilities coordinator, said she thinks Junior Achievement's program is a great benefit to the community. Centier Bank and Junior Achievement have plans to team up to spread the JA Financial Park program to more schools.