By Harry Anderson
It’s in her DNA, Sara Hutchings-Schwartz’s wont to help the under served. With a degree in English and drama from Rhode Island College on her resume, for ten years she taught Coventry’s middle school kids the first two of the three R’s: reading and writing. Then, upon learning of the dire need for advocates of the many people in the age range of 18-75 who struggle with psychological disorders, she became a Certified Safety Professional and went to work with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). For five years she put her heart and soul into the task of trying to eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness while training her clients to use coping skills.
But achievement was elusive. That bothered her, not for her own sake particularly but for those she was trying to help. She contends, “There are too many theories out there about the best way to teach school kids and to heal, say, schizophrenia and depression. Everything’s too in the abstract.”
Perhaps because Sara is a born and bred upcountry woman (Scituate native, graduating from the town’s high school in 1996), she is pragmatic, hard working, and she looks for positive results from her labor. When she heard of an opening with Junior Achievement – before applying for it – she researched the organization and saw that everything about it suited her, not least of which its hands-on methodology to attain its goals. Passion flashes in her deep brown eyes as she briefs her visitor about her new employer.
“I love what I’m now doing which is primarily setting up weekly programs, tweaking the curriculum, and connecting volunteers with the host teachers. I have a hunch that most people don’t know that in the coming year Junior Achievement will celebrate its centennial. And I bet they also don’t know that 10,033 Rhode Island students participate in our program.”
She points out that, although JA’s philosophy essentially remains as it has been for a century, its implementation has broadened. In brief, the philosophy is three-pronged:
~ to give young people knowledge and skills
needed to own their economic successes
~ to enable them to plan for their futures
~ to enable them to make smart
academic and economic choices
By applying these to three core areas – work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy – JA’s goal is to ignite a spark in students to discover opportunities and real-life strategies.
Whereas in the past volunteers from the corporate world implemented this philosophy off-campus, today they meet with students in schools and often side-by-side with teachers during class time. Another example of JA’s broadened implementation is its offering programs to all students, K-to-12, not just to high schoolers, as was the case until about 1968.
“With kindergarten students, we use flash cards and an illustrated booklet showing cartoon characters,” Sarah explains. “If all goes well, after five half-hour lessons, they’ll have learned such basics as what money is, ways to earn it and to save.”
Seniors put the capstone on their attaining financial fluency by learning about supply and demand, inflation, personal budgeting, balancing a checking account, and stocks and bonds.
Currently, JA’s mission is reaching ten million young people in one hundred countries. Indispensable are the volunteers, all 470,000 of them – retirees, entrepreneurs, MBA’s, parents – who (as Sara puts it) “love sharing their economic expertise with the kids.”
She has been especially busy since last September as the Rhode Island chapter of Junior Achievement readied its Inspire Program for the Career Fair, a two-day event (December 4-5) held at the Convention Center in Providence. She has been enlisting corporations to sponsor the event and other professions to set up exhibits (or “clusters”) that introduce students to careers. More than twenty different clusters were in place.
“Scituate High School exhibited its CTE (Career/Technical Education). All in all, the exhibits represented careers ranging from banking to nursing, teaching, and advertising.”
Quickly she adds that apparently all went well, quoting a student’s reaction: “We’ve had such a fun time!”
The Inspire Program targets eighth graders. Presently it has reached more than 4,500 of them. The goal is to swell that number to 20,000 by the year 2020. With support coming from the Governor’s Workforce Board that sees the program as a means to boost the State’s economy by assisting young people – especially inner city kids – to attain financial literacy and to choose careers, Sara has high hopes for the goal to be met.
As Junior Achievement is gearing up to celebrate its centennial in 2019, it seems to be living up to its name. And Sara Hutchings-Schwartz is basking in the joy that comes with achievement, knowing that she is helping so many young people to find it as well.