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JA Campus levels the playing field for remote students across the country

When the Covid-19 pandemic closed classrooms, Junior Achievement’s ability to engage students and deliver programming in schools came to a halt.

After decades in operation, delivering in-person programs that prepared hundreds of thousands of students across the country for financial independence, employment and entrepreneurship, there really was only one thing left for the organization to do: Roll up their sleeves and pivot.

So, they took a project that was on the five-year horizon and fast-tracked it at full-throttle speed, launching the virtual JA in a record six-week period.

JA Campus is free to access for educators, teachers, parents, students and volunteers across the country. From Grades 3 to 12, more than 40 programs are available to supplement and support classroom learning and equip young people with financial literacy, business and career-readiness skills.

JA Campus gives students from coast to coast the opportunity to learn on an easy-to-use platform, test their knowledge through interactive exercises and connect with talented industry experts for unique perspectives on money, careers and entrepreneurship.

It has democratized accessibility for students in remote areas, particularly in a province such as New Brunswick, which is about 60-per-cent remote, says Connie Woodside, president and CEO of Junior Achievement New Brunswick. “JA Campus has leveled the playing field, allowing us to reach more students online where we weren’t able to in person.”

Team members from northern communities across Canada have also expressed that digital programs have changed their conversation with schools. Staff don’t have to ask students where they are.

“Now, anyone who has internet access can learn about public-speaking, job interviews and current trends from mentors on the cutting edge of the business world,” says Woodside.

“In a normal prepandemic year, we would reach 15,000 students in New Brunswick. This year, we reached 18,000 students so far and we’d like to get to 30,000 by June 30.”

The platform and new delivery models are not just enabling access but also deepening student engagement. Historically, students participated in one Grade-aligned JA program per year. On JA Campus, students are engaging with an average of two programs.

JA Canada board member Tim Christmann has seen how quickly the organization brought its digital vision to life and the ongoing commitment to platform development.

Christmann, strategy and innovation officer with Deloitte Canada, a lead partner of JA’s digital transformation, says the pandemic provided the organization with an opportunity to elevate itself.

“JA has a strong, grassroots volunteer-based team that was historically paper-based. While the simplicity of this approach allowed volunteers on the ground to have a huge impact, being paper-based became a huge problem when the pandemic hit, and shifting quickly to digital was really a matter of survival,” he says.

“The shift from volunteer-based to teacher-led delivery gave teachers in their greatest time of need a valuable tool to deliver content virtually.”

In New Brunswick, this led to the province’s education ministry endorsing the curriculum of JA and allowing students to earn credits that can be applied to their high school graduation requirements.

“They recognized JA Campus could be a solution to a very big problem during the pandemic, as teachers didn’t have their curriculum digitized. We were able to fill that void with our learnings on workforce readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship,” says Woodside.

Across the country, more than three-quarters of JA’s most popular financial literacy programs are now also available as teacher-led, using online tools, and nearly 8 per cent of users are students who are self-discovering and engaging with digital programs.

“We’ve been inspired by the students and educators,” says Andre Gallant, senior director of programs at JA Canada, “and we are committed to iterative program development to ensure a dynamic learning experience by building interactive and relevant programs that make learning fun!”

JA continues to develop the platform capabilities in response to user demand and feedback. Teachers now have the ability to assign and monitor student progress through the JA Campus learning system and interactive dashboards.

“Digitization has just opened up our whole world of learning because everything and anything is now possible,” Woodside adds. “It has truly brought our organization to the next level.”

JA is also digitizing operations, bringing to life customer relationship management capabilities, giving JA’s regional offices the tools to manage interactions with stakeholders, teachers, volunteers, administrators, funders and students, says Christmann.

For example, efforts to overlay StatsCan data with the capabilities to visualize participant engagement give JA the opportunity to have more targeted outreach to engage schools that aren’t being served.

“The tools allow each JA office to be more consistent in the way they execute their operations and give them a platform to scale up as JA continues to grow its reach more effectively,” he explains.

JA’s mission is focused on preparing youth for success. “We inspire youth to be financially literate innovators and entrepreneurs, coaching them to be budget minded and consumer driven,” says Scott Hillier, CEO of JA Canada. “As a charity in a rapidly changing environment, our adoption of these digital capabilities demonstrates our commitment to operating like an efficient smart business.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with JA Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.