JA Colonial Discovery Center of Savannah Opens – Expected to Serve 15,000 Middle School Students Per Year

JA Colonial Discovery Center of Savannah - Curriculum

Kyle Redner, JA’s Director of Development, sits on top of packs of the curriculum before it gets sent out to area schools.

In September of 2020, Junior Achievement (JA) of Georgia announced it would be opening a JA Discovery Center here in Savannah. Georgia Southern University donated its 25,000 square foot former student recreation center located on the Armstrong Campus, and in February of 2021, the groundbreaking took place. Colonial Group has been the lead sponsor for the renovations of the building, which will be called the JA Colonial Discovery Center of Savannah, and donated more than half of the cost of the build-out at two million dollars. The center, which will be the fifth in the state of Georgia and the first south of I-20, opens for use by all area schools starting on February 7, 2022. Here’s a glimpse of what to expect. 

JA Discovery Centers are state-of-the-art learning facilities where middle school students can apply concepts and practices of business, entrepreneurship, career readiness, and financial literacy in a 360-degree authentic and immersive experience. To achieve this, JA Discovery Centers team up with school systems in their area to distribute 20 hours of curriculum aligned with Georgia Performance Standards and Common Core Standards to sixth and seventh-grade classes. The curriculum is based on two JA Discovery Center programs: JA BizTown and JA Finance Park. Sixth-grade classes study the JA BizTown curriculum, which focuses on entrepreneurship/business concepts such as net profit, profit margin, and loans to name a few. Seventh graders study financial literacy through the JA Finance Park curriculum and learn about concepts like savings, debt, compound interest, taxes, and credit scores. 

Storefront sponsors include businesses like United Way of the Coastal Empire and Publix. The installations pictured here were taken during the construction phase.

After completing the in-class curriculum, the schools then visit the Discovery Centers for a full day of interactive learning. Each JA Discovery Center is set up to mimic an actual town with multiple storefront simulations that provide student visitors with real-world scenarios to live out in either the JA BizTown or JA Finance Park. “BizTown teaches students how to make money. Finance Park teaches students how to spend it wisely,” explains Camille Russo, Vice President of Marketing at Junior Achievement of Georgia. “Through BizTown, sixth-graders are assigned a job at a business and they go into the center, meet their team, and they all run this business. They have to get a business loan, sell an actual product to their fellow students, and try to pay back their business loan by end of day. Through Finance Park, seventh graders are learning about personal budgeting. They’re all assigned varying income levels and lifestyles and basically learn about needs versus wants as they shop and learn about the connection between education and career options.”

Savannah’s center is built with 18 storefront replications, which are named and modeled after area businesses that are sponsors. Storefront sponsors include well-known Savannah companies such as Thomas and Hutton, St Joseph Candler Hospital, Critz Buick-GMC, and South State. Each of the 18 companies worked with JA to design storefronts tailored to the services and products they provide while taking into consideration the programs’ curriculum.

In addition to the storefront sponsors, the center also has 20 capital sponsors that helped Georgia Southern and Colonial Group make the building possible. Russo expressed that businesses in the region were excited to be a part of the new JA Colonial Discovery Center. “It takes a village and the community really came together. It’s very telling about our community here in coastal Georgia.”

The center is staffed by a small team including two Simulation Managers, who are in charge of setting up the spaces and facilitating the experiences for students. In addition, the JA Colonial Discovery Center is uniquely implementing a new volunteer model through which Georgia Southern students ​​in JA’s Dulany Waters Leadership Scholar program will assist in guiding the middle schoolers through the simulations. This offers university students an opportunity to learn and garner their own professional experience while giving middle schoolers a connection to student life at the college.

Junior Achievement staff members who have been preparing for opening day on February 7th are pictured in the  new JA Colonial Discovery Center of Savannah. From L to R: Julian Arias (VP of Discovery Center Experience), Jessica Kitzmiller (Operations Manager), Anthony Fulton, (Simulation Manager), Laura McDaniel (Simulation Manager), Camille Russo (VP of Marketing), and Isai Castrejon (Director of Site Operations).

Russo says the center will see student field trips every weekday. ”During the school year, the JA Colonial Discovery Center will be filled with between 120 and 150 middle school students every weekday, basically impacting about 15,000 middle school students a year,” she explained. Students will come from public schools, private schools, and homeschools across southeast Georgia to participate: ​​Bethesda Academy, Bryan County Schools, Bulloch Academy, Effingham County Schools, Evans County Schools, Hancock Day School, Savannah Christian Prep, Savannah Classical Academy, and Savannah–Chatham County Public Schools.

Employment agency and area business Hire Dynamics is a storefront sponsor. Each space is uniquely designed to not only create a simulation for the students but to teach them about opportunities in the sponsors’ industries and provide some level of education related to the industry.

JA Discovery Centers have seen very positive outcomes for students involved in their programming. Of the students who participate in JA BizTown, ninety-four percent expect to graduate from high school and then attend post-secondary education. Ninety-four percent of JA Finance Park student participants report that they now understand the importance of education in school to achieve the lifestyles they prefer. In addition to discovering the core concepts needed for entrepreneurship and personal finance, the students learn important soft skills. Ninety percent of teachers involved in the programs report that their students effectively integrate collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and economic skills. 

When school lets out, the JA Colonial Discovery Center will continue to offer its programming in other formats. Russo shared that the hope is to have a few weeks of summer camp offerings as well as provide educational opportunities for older students and young adults. “The center certainly provides applications outside of middle school that high school students, and even adults, can learn from and we generally offer that in the summer.”

The center officially opens on Monday, February 7th, starting with a visit from the students at the Bartlett STEM Academy. To learn more about the JA Colonial Discovery Center, visit the JA website here.

About Junior Achievement of Georgia:

Junior Achievement (JA) of Georgia is dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make educated academic and economic choices. JA learning solutions are delivered by corporate and community volunteers, and provide relevant, hands-on experiences to students from kindergarten through high school. JA of Georgia offers multiple programs, including in-class programs, 3DE by Junior Achievement, JA BizTown and JA Finance Park, all of which focus on entrepreneurship, personal financial literacy and workforce readiness. JA of Georgia serves more than 120,000 students annually statewide, including 13,000 in the Savannah area. JA of Georgia’s headquarters is in Atlanta with regional offices in Dalton, Gainesville, and Savannah. For more information, visit georgia.ja.org.


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About Kait Lance

Kait has been writing for The Creative Coast since 2014. A self-proclaimed "startup hype-woman," she is passionate about storytelling that shines a light on new ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the southeastern Georgia region.