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My students got to see a representation of reality and of Kansas City.


Image caption: Eighth Grader Kai Somasegaran (L) and Eighth Grade Communication Arts Teacher Miss Joy Jackson (R)

Joy Jackson, an eighth grade Communication Arts Teacher at Oakhill Day School, is bringing the Junior Achievement tradition from her childhood to her own students. The past year has been a test on Miss Joy’s ability to adapt as a teacher. She recalled what drew her to teaching in the first place, saying, “From a very young age I liked helping people learn. My mom was a teacher and I really admired how she was able to build relationships with students. Relationship building is my favorite part of teaching.” When the pandemic hit, suddenly Miss Joy found herself trying to forge bonds with students from afar.

Though the road was difficult, Miss Joy was impressed by student’s ability to embrace the uncertainty of schooling in a pandemic. “I admire that these kids have survived, even thrived, through remote and virtual learning. I don’t know that I would have been able to do that at their age.” Even still, Miss Joy knew that keeping students engaged and looking towards their future would take all the creativity and resourcefulness she could muster, and then some. Due to the pandemic, Miss Joy confided that introducing outside resources to her classroom has been a struggle. “We’ve had to be insulated at Oakhill because of COVID. Guests cannot come into the building. We cannot even have parents walking around.”

Miss Joy shared how she renewed her old ties to Junior Achievement. “I participated in Junior Achievement in the fourth grade as part of a citizenship program. Recently, Maggie Newhouse connected me to Sara Swearingen (JAKC Program Manager) who told me about JA Programs now.” One program in particular piqued Miss Joy’s interest, “I saw the JA Career Fair and jumped on it!” The experienced educator instantly understood what a virtual career fair could offer her classroom. “I was particularly excited about the idea that students would be able to learn about and talk to people in a variety of businesses and roles.”

The opportunity to bring real-world experiences into her classroom remotely with Junior Achievement was one she couldn’t pass up. “I wanted my students to see real live adults who were doing real life things.” The career fair speakers broadened her student’s understanding of the different careers available for their future. “Beforehand I talked to the kids about how we often only hear about ‘picture-book’ jobs. Teachers. Police Officers. Mail Carriers. Those are great jobs, but there is a much wider spectrum of jobs kids should consider when they’re thinking about what they want to do when they grow up.”

Miss Joy appreciated that the Career Fair brought a deeper look into less obvious routes to success. “The kids know job titles, but not what they actually do. What does it really mean to be a Vice President of Development? To hear from a VP of Development and find out what they do on a day-to-day basis, why their job matters to their organization, and how they got there…that has a lot of value for kids.”

One of Miss Joy’s students, Kai Somasegaran, shared how his JA experience expanded his horizons. “The career fair gave me an insight into what different jobs would be like. I’ve been thinking for quite a while about what I want to do…maybe be a veterinarian. But I’m still at the point where I don’t really know.” Kai, a talented student who excels in his Communication Arts, Math, and Science classes, will surely have his pick of future careers. But that does not make the choice any less daunting now. Miss Joy shared, “Anything Kai decides to do, he’s going to be really good at. The sky is the limit. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.”

Kai explained the pressure he feels to ‘get it right’ when it comes to picking a path for his future. “I’ve always felt pressured to know exactly what I wanted to do, even though it’s self-pressure.” He was excited to hear firsthand from professionals living out some of the possible careers he could one day pursue. “We heard from a Project Manager at Hallmark, an Architect, an Accountant, and several other jobs.”

The featured speakers’ wisdom helped relieve some of the stress Kai was carrying with him. “What really stuck with me is that you don’t have to know what you want to do at this age.” For now, Kai’s setting his sights on helping animals. But knowing that his goal could change, and that it’s alright, was a relief. The focus on the big picture was a key part of the day. Miss Joy emphasized, “The speakers brought messages of grit and determination. Keeping the goal in mind. Being flexible when your goals need to change.” Kai reinforced her point, “It’s very important that we got to do this. It is helpful to know there is more to business than what you see from the outside.”

But perhaps the most valuable aspect of the day was the wide range of backgrounds JA volunteers brought to the virtual table. Miss Joy was grateful her students had the opportunity to learn the many ways success can be created. “There was diversity of ethnicity, age, education, and life experience. My students got to see a representation of reality and of Kansas City.” For this Kansas City teacher, having her students learn the strength that comes from diversity was a powerful lesson which hopefully made a lasting impression on their young minds.

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