Originally founded as the Boys’ and Girls’ Bureau in 1916, Junior Achievement has grown into the largest supplier of applied economic and business education curricula in the United States, reaching well over one million students in grades 4-12 annually.
Originally created as a program for preteens in Springfield, Massachusetts, Junior Achievement shifted its focus to teach teenagers the responsibilities of citizenship, the value of self-reliance, and respect for America’s free-market economy as safeguards for American democracy.
Shortly after its founding, Junior Achievement began to allow coed membership in its clubs, and it was one of the first organizations to provide entrepreneurial training to young women. Junior Achievement clubs were also racially integrated at a time when such a policy was not common in many parts of the United States. During the 1940’s, when U.S. industry was heavily involved in producing supplies to support the military in World War II, many Junior Achievement clubs functioned as subcontractors to manufacture simple but necessary defense industry products. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Junior Achievement expanded its programs to operate in all fifty states. Junior Achievement has always had a policy of refusing to compete for funds against other nonprofit agencies. Its local programs must be supported by local business communities, which provide funds for start-up costs and materials, as well as expertise in various areas of business operations.
By the late 1960’s, American teenagers were opposed to both the war in Vietnam and the nation’s general business culture. Participation in Junior Achievement dropped steadily. In conjunction with the National Business Alliance, Junior Achievement began to develop curricula in financial literacy, applied economics, and business operations for use in high school classrooms across the country.
Since the 1940’s, Junior Achievement had fostered strong ties with high schools to provide students with practical business experience, but it had not yet participated in activities in the classroom. Junior Achievement had been run as clubs that met after school hours. Beginning during the 1970’s, however, Junior Achievement began to provide schools with business educators, as well as approved classroom materials, all paid for by local business sponsors. Eventually, Junior Achievement expanded its curricula to include materials and activities for more than 2 million students in grades 4-12 annually.
In addition to providing real-world experience running small businesses, Junior Achievement clubs compete against and learn from one another in regional trade fairs. Junior Achievement members also participate in leadership development programs at national business conferences, where they network with supportive business executives.
Box, John M. “Twenty-First Century Learning After School: The Case of Junior Achievement Worldwide.” In The Case for Twenty-First Century Learning, edited by Eric Schwarz and Ken Kay. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2006. Francomano, Joe, Wayne Lavitt, and Darryl Lavitt. Junior Achievement: A History. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Junior Achievement, 1988.