Preparing students for success in a global marketplace

Founded in 1919, Junior Achievement (JA) started by teaching students about business. Students gathered after school and formed actual companies, guided by volunteers from local corporations. Over the years, JA expanded its programs and now serves students from Kindergarten through Grade 12. Most of the programs are held during the school day and offer students a wide range of curricula focusing on job readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurism. Today, JA reaches nearly 5 million students in the US and millions more across the globe.

When Samantha Van Zilen joined XL Catlin in 2007, she became aware of the Global Day of Giving. “I thought there was a natural synergy between our company’s focus on education and the Global Day of Giving, so I reached out to JA and said we were seeking a school with a global flavor. We couldn’t have asked for a better fit. Charter Oak International Baccalaureate Academy in West Hartford focuses on first through fifth graders. At that time, their diverse population represented 17 different countries and their focus was on preparing their students for the global marketplace.”

In the beginning, the volunteer team included 14 colleagues. Today, colleagues have continued to volunteer annually and have been able to provide full classroom coverage. Samantha says she discovered that the teaching experience was best when shared with at least one other colleague. Through the years she’s been able to have enough colleagues volunteer so the volunteers could team teach.

According to Samantha, “our volunteers have gained a better appreciation for the work teachers do. In addition, many of our colleagues have been able to strengthen their public speaking skills and some have also enhanced their collaborative skills through the team teaching experience.” As for Samantha herself, she says the experience has strengthened her organizational and planning skills as well as workload balancing skills.

In 2011, JA approached Samantha and asked the team to expand their volunteering commitment through a pilot 6th grade program at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford. This was a full six-week series of one hour per week. Some of the students included those the volunteer team had worked with at Charter Oak through the annual Global Day of Giving. The six-week series at Sedgwick has continued ever since with support from the Hartford Leadership Team.

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