This year has thrown countless challenges at traditional educational models, forcing schools to adapt through virtual classrooms, online learning, and hybrid scenarios. One Kansas City organization is embracing the challenge to create a new way of learning—and the work actually started well before the pandemic.
Kansas City native Megan Sturges-Stanfield, the president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City, has spent the past two years helping the community envision the next step in experiential learning for KC kids: The JAKC Youth Learning Lab project. Her priorities? Ignite a spark in students from all corners of the metro and provide an ability-inclusive learning opportunity that inspires bright futures. And it’s all taking shape near 47th Avenue and Mission Road in KCK.
We caught up with Megan, and she gave us four reasons the JAKC Youth Learning Lab should be at the top of to-do lists for KC-area students and educators when it opens in the spring.
1) Kids will learn what’s possible—for them and Kansas City
“The JAKC Youth Learning Lab convenes local partners to show kids why they should continue to live, work, and play in KC when they grow up. JA BizTown will exclusively feature homegrown companies. With a nostalgic nod to Exchange City, a popular school outing for past generations, children can now become a doctor at Children’s Mercy, campaign for the role of Mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, learn finances at CommunityAmerica Credit Union, or explore another role at one of the 16 local storefronts. Each organization works with JAKC to develop an engaging curriculum. Before boarding the bus home, students might also explore the JAKC Hall of Fame to learn how noteworthy civic leaders overcame their own obstacles.
2) Inclusivity and safety are top-of-mind
“JAKC is collaborating with another local nonprofit, Variety KC, to remove any mobility and communication barriers. The space will include a Sensory Room to accommodate the needs of individuals with sensory processing disorders, such as those on the autism spectrum. JA BizTown will incorporate specially designed acoustic paneling to minimize noise overstimulation in the 14,000-square-foot space. Bathrooms are designed with gender-neutral stalls connected by a public hand-washing area. Accessible restrooms include adult changing tables. Finally, the entire building is equipped with keycard-enabled doors to secure the learning environment.”
3) Economic empowerment for under-resourced populations
“Every child deserves a choice-filled future. Creating a learning opportunity that all children have access to has been a project goal since day one. Fees for JA BizTown and other JAKC Youth Learning Lab programs operate on a sliding-scale model to remove access barriers for under-resourced school districts and their students. Additionally, everyone will enjoy the same resources and activities, leveling the playing field for students coming from underserved parts of the community.”
4) Shrinking the middle school programming desert
“If you’re a teacher or parent with a child in 4th to 9th grade, you have probably noticed there are fewer learning opportunities for this age group every year. The JAKC Youth Learning Lab offers robust resources for educators and families to enrich the educational experiences of these students. JA BizTown will introduce kids in grades 4 to 6 to real-world responsibilities like earning a paycheck, voting in local elections, and building a community with their peers. The JA Innovation Center and Career Center will host programs that empower kids in grades 6 to 9 to understand their unique strengths and how they can leverage them in different career paths.”
Parents and teachers can learn more here.