What do skateboards, iPods and ice cream have in common?  You might think they are all part of a fun-filled summer day for your children.  Actually, they each played a role in our recent visit to M.C. Lively Elementary to teach Junior Achievement to a 4th grade class.

With the focus of our curriculum on entrepreneurism and successfully starting and running a business, what better way to demonstrate this concept to our class than through Tony Hawk, Steve Jobs, and Ben and Jerry’s.  And while the name Tony Hawk may not necessarily be on the tips of our tongues, those 4th graders could have taught an 8-hour class just on him!  For those of us who may not be as smart or cool as a 4th grader, I will tell you that Tony Hawk is probably the most well-known skateboarder in the world.  He turned professional at age 14, retired at age 31 and started multiple businesses thereafter.  He was the perfect example with which to lead, and we “had them at hello.”  What followed was a day of watching videos on the big screen (via the iPad!) about Steve Jobs and Ben & Jerry’s, playing games that simulate running a business, and eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

If you have never taught with Junior Achievement, then you’re missing out on a deeply fulfilling experience, not to mention an opportunity to flex your creative muscles!  The kids absolutely love it when we “guest teachers” spend the day with them.  In fact, as another Celanese colleague and I approached the elementary school, some of the kids standing out in front ran up and hugged me and asked if we were coming to their class.  These kids are super smart and hungry for knowledge.  Phil and I were a little concerned that the concept of entrepreneurism might be a little too complex, but they ate it up (along with the ice cream).  In one exercise, we brought individuals up to the front of the classroom and jointly solved a business problem.  They enjoyed it so much that they hollered and raised their hands to be next.

What we’re really talking about here is a rare opportunity to have a huge impact on the lives of the next generation.  Kids truly are like sponges – they soak up everything they hear and learn.  This is our chance to give them a glimpse into what we do and how we work, to show them something they may not have known otherwise, and to encourage them to pursue their dreams.   I recently had the opportunity to attend an appreciation dinner for Junior Achievement.  Some of the kids most impacted by the program spoke about what it had done for them – how it had given them aspirations to attend college, start their own business or become successful in business.  To know that we may have an impact like that on one of these kids is truly awesome.

By the end of the day, we were totally exhausted.  Everyone had eaten their ice cream, received their certificates and Phil and I were packing up to leave.  One of the more quiet girls in the class came over to me and said: “Miss Maria, I have an idea for a business.  You want to hear it?”  I said sure, and fully expected another idea centered on food.  But her response was that she wanted to start an animal shelter, and she showed me the picture she had drawn of her animal shelter.  I was awestruck.  Throughout the entire day, we had talked about skateboarding, electronics and food businesses.  But, this student had taken it one step further and had really given thought to what sort of business she would start.  In that moment, I knew that Phil and I and all of our talk of entrepreneurism had truly made a difference in at least one of those little lives; it was truly awesome!

When the next JA session comes up, jump on it.  Don’t even give it a second thought as to whether you can teach or if you have what it takes.  You do.  We all do.  It will be as fulfilling for you as it is for the kids, and I promise you won’t regret it (though you may need a serious nap at the end of the day!).