"If I wanted to be a professional basketball player, this was like having NBA stars in my classroom."


Mrs. Meeks' class at Lee A. Tolbert

After pitching her business idea to a panel of real business owner judges, Zoe Scott earned the title of aspiring entrepreneur.

Thanks to several weeks of Junior Achievement curriculum, Zoe knew just what it took to formulate a viable business idea and successfully pitch the product to investors.

Zoe’s idea came from a challenge she faces every day: a way-too-heavy backpack. Wouldn’t it be great, she imagined, if there were a solution to carrying home all my textbooks? Her solution is an app called Excellence, a digital textbook platform that allows students to access their textbooks anytime, anywhere.

“You don’t have to worry about forgetting your textbook,” Zoe explains. “That actually happened to me yesterday!” With her digital textbook app, Zoe would help kids just like her take a load off their backpacks and always have textbooks available.

With three entrepreneurial judges in the sixth grade classroom to hear her idea, Zoe’s Junior Achievement lessons came to life. “It was amazing,” Zoe says. “They were talking to me about what to do. That motivates me to actually do it and be better.”

Having real-world entrepreneurs in her classroom was transformational for Zoe. “If I wanted to be a professional basketball player, this was like having NBA stars in my classroom,” she reflects. Seeing men and women who have achieved what she hopes to achieve someday was life-changing.

Image caption: Entrepreneurs sharing their experience.

Among the other entrepreneurial business ideas Lee A. Tolbert Academy students created were an indestructible phone company, an interactive car seat company and an animal care company. Supporting her students throughout their entrepreneurial journey was their teacher, Mrs. LaTonya Meeks. “As a teacher, my goal has always been to build personal relationships with all of my kids,” Mrs. Meeks shared. “Having Junior Achievement come in and seeing my students’ interests go off the radar was amazing to me! Without JA, I never would have learned that I had students interested in entrepreneurship,” Mrs. Meeks added.

In the JA It’s My Business! program, Zoe and her classmates learned to use critical thinking and problem solving as they developed entrepreneurial skills like understanding customer needs, launching effective marketing, and creating detailed business plans. “We are blessed to have this opportunity,” Zoe says about her Junior Achievement class. “We can discover what we want to do to change the future for all of us.”

One of the lessons that stuck with Zoe is the concept of consumer testing. She remembers a video about the product testing McDonald’s uses to select menu items. “They ask people to see which one they like best and get the community’s opinion,” Zoe explains. “That way they don’t just put something out there that no one’s buying.” In this segment of the curriculum, Zoe examined the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs in order to learn from their experience.

Lamonte Stanfield, a JA classroom volunteer-mentor, led Mrs. Meeks’ class through the JA curriculum. Lamonte works professionally as an engineer and donates his time as a JA volunteer. Zoe and her teacher were impressed with how open Lamonte was in the classroom. After learning Lamonte has been an athlete and overcame many obstacles to get where he is today, Zoe was excited to ask questions and learn more. “I don’t have anyone to tell me that stuff,” she says. “It’s a privilege for me to understand how to overcome a challenge so I can actually accomplish my goals.”

Image caption: A volunteer presenting to the class.

As a Title 1 school, more than 90% of students at Lee A. Tolbert Academy are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Some students deal with troubling circumstances like homelessness or abuse. “You name the obstacle, we probably have a few kids who’ve been through it,” Mrs. Meeks shares. “It’s amazing when someone takes their time to come out to help us. Sometimes our school is overlooked. With all the things these kids have been through, this is another way to take their mind off that and be happy.”

“Junior Achievement is so beneficial to them because they don’t get lessons like these at home,” Mrs. Meeks says. “If they aren’t exposed to concepts like entrepreneurship and financial literacy, they don’t know. That exposure inspires them to create our future.”

In addition to learning business concepts, Zoe came to understand powerful principles she can apply to her life. “You don’t have to have your whole idea at once,” Zoe notes. “You can take your time. It’s like writing a book. You write a little each day. Then, you edit. It’s a step-by-step process.”

Many students find that what they learn about entrepreneurship can be applied to whatever dream they have for the future. “Mr. Lamonte taught us that if you follow what you’re told and do what’s right, you’ll get there,” Zoe says. She learned to apply this same lesson to her schoolwork and increased her drive to continue learning and growing.

Zoe Scott is one of the 80 million students Junior Achievement has touched since its beginnings in 1919. “We appreciate Junior Achievement so much because they took a chance on Tolbert,” Mrs. Meeks says. “Sparks were made and those gaps in the future are filled all because of JA.”

When you give to Junior Achievement, you give kids like Zoe and her classmates a chance to thrive. Help empower our youngest generation to make a difference in the future and become a part of Junior Achievement today.

Select a button below to see how you or your organization can get involved with Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City.

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