Student business program gets upgraded work space in St. Paul

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The facility that hosts a local student business program in the metro just got a major upgrade. 

On Tuesday, Junior Achievement’s JA BizTown opened its new location in St. Paul. With help from Minnesota companies and a $20-million campaign, the organization was able to move their offices from Maplewood to a renovated building in St. Paul. The program first started in Maplewood in 2001. 

JA BizTown is an academic program where local students run a free market economy for the day. Each student interviews and is assigned to a “job” in fields like media and banking. 

“I am the Chief Financial Officer of the New Media Center,” said Highland Park Elementary 5th Grader Sara Tekeste. 

Busy checking emails and managing staff, this is Tekeste’s second time at JA BizTown, so she knows her role. 

“I handle all of the money, where it goes and where I put it for the advertisements and where the money would go,” Tekeste said. 

Tekeste and her classmates are some of the 35,000 students who will visit JA BizTown this year.

They run a free-market economy, study the water, handle construction and learn about money management. 

The program’s new facility offers three new businesses, a bigger and brighter workspace and, most importantly, allows them to double the number of students they serve each year. 

“It’s amazing. The space is so open and it’s positive, and with the technology, the businesses are contemporary businesses too,” said Donna Ryder, 5th grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary. 

“Organizations - businesses - have agreed to sponsor the businesses. Then they bring to life their job opportunities in the future, so kids get to understand what the world of work is like,” said LaChelle Williams, Senior Vice President of Operations for Junior Achievement. 

“It’s a very good experience about how to be an adult and how to handle all of your money,” Tekeste said. 

Tekeste also believes JA BizTown gives her some perspective on the daily challenges parents face. 

“Now I know what she goes through every day. And it’s hard, but it’s amazing how she can do that handling three kids,” Tekeste said. 

Before coming to JA BizTown, students take several lessons in the classroom to prepare. Local volunteers also help keep the businesses running.