Students will learn about money at new Discovery Center

When middle school students take field trips to a new exhibit at the Georgia World Congress Center, they’ll enter a smaller version of Atlanta’s business world, complete with storefronts including Delta Air Lines, Gas South and SunTrust Banks.

The $15 million project, unveiled Tuesday, will teach students about money management skills they might not otherwise learn until after high school. They’ll use play money to make personal finance decisions, and they’ll pretend to be the CEOs of major companies. They’ll find out what happens if they buy a bigger house than they can afford, and they’ll learn about future career opportunities.

About 30,000 students a year in grades 6 through 8 will visit Junior Achievement’s Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center starting Sept. 10, when the first classes visit the exhibit. Nearly every middle schooler from DeKalb, Fulton, Atlanta and Marietta schools will visit the Discovery Center as part of their studies of financial literacy, which will be incorporated into social studies classes.

“I hope they learn that business is fun and they can enjoy their work,” said Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, whose foundation is the primary sponsor of the Discovery Center. “Hopefully that will motivate them to do better in school.”

The Discovery Center will be free for students in participating school systems and student groups. Nonstudents can tour the exhibit without charge, but instructional activities are only open to students.

The Chick-fil-A Foundation contributed $5.1 million for the Discovery Center, a capital campaign raised $5.3 million to transform the mezzanine level at the Georgia World Congress Center’s Building C, $4 million came from Discovery Center storefront sponsors, and Junior Achievement’s board contributed $1.2 million.

After working in the storefronts, students will be able to use the play money they’ve earned to buy a real lunch from the on-location Chick-fil-A. For two fake dollars, students will get a sandwich, applesauce, chips and bottled water.

Before traveling to the Discovery Center, students will learn in class about finance and economics, Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said.

Classes will be aligned with Georgia academic standards in math, language arts and social studies while incorporating the concepts of Junior Achievement, a nonprofit organization that creates programs on finance, careers and entrepreneurship for students. Junior Achievement and volunteers from participating companies will run the Discovery Center every weekday of the school year.

“The Discovery Center brings what they learn in the classroom to life,” Avossa said. “We hope it will open doors for career pathways.”

In all, about 40 businesses are represented at the center.

At SunTrust’s storefront, students will create monthly budgets and learn about how to manage credit. At PGi’s booth, kids will play with virtual meetings software.

Delta’s exhibits include explanations of different careers, a simulated airplane, and money management lessons.

In Gas South’s store, students will learn about natural gas and weigh whether they’ll save money on a sample home gas bill if they make improvements, such as adding insulation, CEO Kevin Greiner said.

“It takes education, from being sometimes theoretical to something concrete and practical,” Greiner said. “Teaching kids early, before they’re adults, is really the time to make sure they get on the right financial path.”

Eighth-grader Xavier Gray, who took a class last year with Junior Achievement, said the Discovery Center will encourage students to think about their futures.

“It gives students insight on all the careers out there. If they put their minds to it, they can choose their profession,” said Gray, a student at KIPP Ways Academy in west Atlanta.

With 20 percent of Georgians spending more money than they made last year, students will learn at the Discovery Center how to save money and spend more responsibly than their elders, consumer advocate and talk radio host Clark Howard said.

“This is what creates the opportunity for a kid who doesn’t hear the conversation at home, who doesn’t hear about how you start a business, how you do budgets, how you make a profit by innovating, creating and serving, and then once you have that money, how you manage it,” Howard said.

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