EDISON — Last fall the New Jersey Department of Education selected Junior Achievement of New Jersey as its provider of financial literacy education to public schools in the state, at no cost to students.

The organization's signature program, JA Finance Park, is being made available to all middle and high school students in accordance with the state's financial literacy standards and graduation requirements, first adopted in 2014 and amended within the past year.

In the course of the program, kids are taught a variety of concepts and skills including balancing a budget, completing a tax return, applying for financial aid and other loans, and exploring lines of credit and types of insurance.

As they learn, so do their parents, and that's especially true in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, when future finances are uncertain for many families.

"Things like that are all aligned to what students need to know to be ready for the real world when they graduate," Christy Biedron, JANJ director of education, said. "Students who are learning from home, who are taking classes online in lieu of being in the classroom, can still access our curriculum."

Over a longer term, JANJ is also offering professional development opportunities to teachers and their districts within the context of improving financial literacy education.

The group has had to refine its curriculum as New Jersey has honed in on what exactly it wants students to learn.

"More than just exploration of money management, but the psychology of spending and saving," Biedron said. "We all make decisions regarding our finances, and a lot of them are rooted in psychology, how we feel about money."

What has become abundantly clear, Biedron said, is as good of a job as the public school system does at giving children a well-rounded education, they can't do it completely alone. So JANJ draws on its real-world business contacts to expand the ideas students are being taught from purely conceptual, to practical and applicable.

"Building those strong relationships is really key to navigating those challenges ahead," Biedron said. "And what makes our curriculum exciting, what makes Junior Achievement exciting for students is that we do partner with the business community."

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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