Students all over the country start heading back to school this month but that is not the only place they are educated. An incredible amount of learning goes on outside of the classroom as well. While much of our learning takes place in formal settings, there is also a great deal of education that takes place more informally, in the school of hard knocks or as we gain real-life experience and exposure. Our teachers have a remarkable impact on young minds every day, and so do the parents, mentors and other caring adults who shape us as we grow up.

I have the privilege and honor of serving on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement (JA), an Atlanta-based organization focused on high-impact programs that drive long-term outcomes in areas of financial literacy, career readiness and fostering the entrepreneurial spirit. JA inspires and prepares young people to succeed by helping them learn real life skills in the classroom and through innovative immersive learning experiences.

Although I’m new to the Board, I already have seen many wonderful ways JA is addressing education gaps. One of the more exciting instructional models is 3DE, an incubator of innovation located within existing high schools. The model aims to re-engineer high school education to be more relevant, experiential and authentically connected to the complexities of the real world in order to more fully prepare today’s students for the demands of tomorrow’s economy.

Outside of the school walls, Atlanta-area middle school students have the opportunity to take part in BizTown and Finance Park at the JA Discovery Center. I first learned about this interactive education center because Purchasing Power has been a longtime partner. We and several other corporate sponsors have storefronts there that present reality-based financial challenges for students to solve, bringing education to life.

JA is also launching a new Summer Camp program in 2022 to help students develop an understanding of basic business principles and the world of work ahead. They’ll learn first-hand what it means to be a citizen of a community, how to get a job, and how to make wise financial decisions to achieve the future they want for themselves and their families.

My childhood camp days were not quite as comprehensive as that, but they left an indelible mark on my future nonetheless. One summer I attended a day camp focused on enrichment and development. I was taught several life skills not typically covered in an academic setting and had the opportunity to meet and interact with kids from varied backgrounds. That kind of experience lays the groundwork for adulthood and learning how to function in many different scenarios, both personally and professionally.

I didn’t have a Junior Achievement-type of program to attend, but throughout my life, I have been the fortunate beneficiary of people who were willing to provide advice and support. They opened the door to me to engage with them and learn more of those kinds of lessons. One mentor in particular stands out. He taught me the acronym PIE – Performance, Image, Exposure.

Optimal performance in our work and personal lives is obviously important for success, and the image we project leaves an impression on others around us about what kind of person we are, affecting our level of influence. However, it’s the third piece of the pie – exposure - that is most important. My mentor encouraged me to keep seeking exposure to new experiences and pushing myself outside of the norm. That’s where the real learning and growth takes place.

That’s what I would encourage today’s students to do as they embark on a new school year or a new career or life direction. Gain exposure to new life skills, smart financial decision making and other real-life experiences now and keep at it. Each new challenge that we learn how to overcome builds up our resilience and our ability to strengthen our performance in all aspects of our lives. And each adult who can take that crucial time to mentor a young person and help introduce them to new experiences will have a profound impact on our leaders of tomorrow.

Written by: Assad Lazarus, Purchasing Power Chief Development Officer and EVP, Public Sector