Area schools invest $5 million in new Junior Achievement center teaching financial skills

Richmond County’s and Columbia County’s school districts have invested $5 million in a center to help teach middle-school students life skills such as financial literacy and career readiness.  

Junior Achievement of Georgia’s Discovery Center of the CSRA expects to open in fall 2023 in a 30,000-square-foot space within Columbia County Schools’ Support Complex at 4395 River Watch Parkway in Martinez, the former site of Greenfield Industries that the school district bought in 2019. 

Pupils from the counties’ schools will visit the facility to participate in two immersive programs designed to simulate real life.  

Deal struck:Richmond, Columbia counties’ schools team up to build Junior Achievement Discovery Center

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In JA BizTown, sixth-graders are assigned jobs and work in teams in hands-on scenarios to learn how to run businesses in an environment designed to resemble the Augusta community, including storefronts that bear the names of recognizable local businesses.  

In JA Finance Park, pupils assume work identities to learn more about careers, budgeting, money management and navigating today’s consumer economy.  

JA announced Thursday that Augusta’s McKnight Construction will be the construction manager for the project.

“The hope is for us to be able to give students this view into the business world, into what goes into making a city run, what goes into making an economy run, and to really get them a view into possible jobs that they may be able to do once they’re out of high school, depending on if they go to college or they don’t,” said Ashley Whitaker, Junior Achievement’s development director for the Augusta area. “We’re going to have trades represented, professional careers represented. It’s just a really realistic view for our students in the community.” 

Richmond County and Columbia County schools each contributed $2.5 million to stake the project, which is still seeking further sustained support from local stakeholders. Whitaker said the program likely will be extended to schools across the Savannah River. 

“We’re hoping to increase that reach after this first year that we’ll be open. We’re looking to bring in Aiken County even though it’s Junior Achievement ‘of Georgia,’ but Aiken County is so close to the Augusta-Evans area, were going to include them as well,” she said. “Basically, any school district within about a 45-minute or one-hour bus ride from the school to the facility.” 

The idea is for students to walk into the JA simulations ready to use what they’ve already learned in class at their respective schools. JA instructors and other volunteers will guide the BizTown and Finance Park simulations.  

The Augusta-area location will the JA’s sixth Discovery Center in the state. The nonprofit youth organization operates centers in Atlanta, Lawrenceville, Cumming, Dalton and Savannah.  

“We are looking forward to seeing work begin on the new Junior Achievement Discovery Center,” Columbia County schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Flynt said Thursday. “This brings us one step closer to providing a unique and enriched learning experience in the area of financial literacy and economics for our middle-school students.” 

“Too often our students may not have a realistic idea of what being an adult is,” said Richmond County schools Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Bradshaw in March 2022, when the district first pledged funding toward the project. With the new center, “they feel the experience of paying bills, owning a business, and that’s our core business in education.” 

Civic and business leaders interested in partnering with the new center can contact Whitaker at (706) 691-9276 or