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Junior Achievement marks 20 continuous years in Hudson

Hudson Middle School sixth-grader Yasha Bol was elected the mayor of Junior Achievement's Biz Town after running an impressive campaign. She said the experience was a chance to see how things run in the "real world."1 / 2
Serving at Biz Town's utility engineering department were from left, Chief Financial Officer Peter Erickson, Dewey Hardan, Connor Johnson, Wyatt Such and Ben Bergquist. Not pictured, Emily Stanze.2 / 2

It has been 20 years since Hudson business people, community members and teachers and students began their Junior Achievement collaboration.

JA is the oldest and largest private initiative in economic education, according to information put out by JA of Hudson in 1994.

Tim Chukel, now a Hudson Middle School math teacher, was with the JA organization back then and thought the program would be good for his hometown.

Then Hudson School District Director of Curriculum Chuck Sambs agreed and he began to gather similarly minded people to the effort -- people like teacher Pat Stevens and longtime Hudson businessman John Knutson.

Knutson, owner of Catalyst Sports Medicine, has been "teaching" JA lessons ever since. The Hudson program is for students in grades K-6 and Knutson said the curriculum is designed in concentric circles. It begins in kindergarten with individuals who set up a lemonade stand and goes forward to include family, community, the region and the country. "It is kind of a paint-by-numbers-kit approach to how business and our economy works. It looks at us as consumers from the inside out and shows kids their role in an expanding world. Teaching kids about our free enterprise system is a win-win for everyone."

JA volunteers have come from throughout the community over the years and include a kind of who's who in Hudson, especially in the business sector. For many volunteers Knutson said it is a rare opportunity for many of them to go "back to school" and talk about something they not only know about but want to share with the children.

The first year there were 19 classrooms involved. Today there are JA volunteers in more than 130 classes across the Hudson School District.

Melisa Hansen, School to Work coordinator for Hudson High School and a member of the JA Board of Directors, said they are looking forward to working with the high school faculty to expand the JA experience into the high school in the new freshman and grades 1-12 career academies. She said the JA curriculum fits well with HSD 2025, the district's strategic vision for all students.

If the volunteers are sold on the value of JA, so are teachers. Tim Halvorson teachers sixth-grade math at Hudson Middle School. He recently was with his students at JA Biz Town, the Twin Cities facility that simulates a real community and where students take over its operation from mayor to business owners to service organizations.

Halvorson remembers when Sambs approached him about the program and he admits he wasn't immediately excited about the prospect of adding one more thing to a busy school schedule. "He was my boss so I kind of had to go with it but I was really impressed with what I saw. There is a lot that leads up to this (Biz Town). But this makes it all real for them. It teaches them about cooperation, responsibility and how things and people work together in the real world. They may not remember the capital of Costa Rica from school but I guarantee they will remember this experience."

Students/residents all over Biz Town appear to take their roles seriously from Mayor Yasha Bol and grocery store CFO Reese Wagner. They dress the part sporting suits and ties. "They try to look professional as well as apply the things they have been learning. They are problem-solving and look smart doing it," said Halvorson.

Sharon Severson is the program director of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest and she knows many of the Hudson teachers who come to Biz Town. "It is the culmination of the JA experience for these kids and it is wonderful to see them in action."

This will be HMS sixth-grade teacher Bobbi Sinnett's last Biz Town experience. She will retire in June and has been participating in JA and Biz Town for 10 years. "And if I flunk retirement, I could very well end up a volunteer. It is wonderful to see our students in a different setting and perform so well. It is an invaluable experience."

Severson said no matter what people do, their experience and skills make them valuable volunteers. "It is a great way to have a direct impact on local kids and share their experience with them."

JA of Hudson is administered by a volunteer board of directors and is supported through grants and local fundraising.

JA needs volunteers in Hudson classrooms this spring in kindergarten through second grade. Materials are provided for five lessons which require about 30-45 minutes per week. For more information contact Annette Kelley at (715) 377-3705 or via email at

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604