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Sixth-grade mayor, sixth-grade economy: First students attend Junior Achievement Discovery Center
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Adelina Rodila of Junior Achievement of Georgia teaches a group of 6th-grade students from Liberty Middle School how to set prices and market their products at the recently opened Junior Achievement Discovery Center. - photo by Alexander Popp

Have you ever been to a place where Delta, Publix and Zaxby’s all sit on the same block, where the mayor is 11-years-old and running could earn you a speeding ticket? 

With the newly opened Junior Achievement Discovery Center, that town now exists — allowing middle schoolers from all over North Georgia to learn financial literacy skills at an elaborate 25,000-square-foot facility on the campus of the Alliance Academy for Innovation.

Over the coming years, sixth- through eighth-grade students come into the center for a day to learn firsthand what it takes to be a member of society, acting as CEO, CFO and creative director for a diverse selection of companies, earning paychecks, paying taxes, and making decisions about what to charge for products and taxes, and how to interact with other students. 

On Thursday, dozens of sixth-graders from Liberty Middle School came to the center with their teachers and volunteers for a day of fun and learning. 

One student, 11-year-old Jackson Elseroad, who was working at the City of Cumming, said that for the last few weeks, he and his classmates have been growing more and more excited for the day, learning about the jobs they might perform and what they might learn.

"I'm the city administrator at the City of Cumming," Elseroad said.  "We are supposed to make sure that everyone is getting their payroll checks, make sure all the companies are moving smoothly and making sure that everyone pays their taxes."

Elseroad said that he and his “co-workers” had discussed their strategies for being successful during the day beforehand and had decided to visit each business in the center, seeing what help they might need.

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"We were mainly thinking that the mayor and the city administrator, which is me, and the CFO would go through and ask people questions and make sure they are doing OK and see if anyone needs any help," he said.

In the end, Elseroad said that they would probably lower taxes for the students at the center.  

"Because no-one likes taxes,” he said thoughtfully. “But on the other hand if no one pays enough taxes then banks may fail, you won’t have enough money to go around for businesses to succeed." 

Heidi Nabulsi, another 11-year-old Liberty student, said that she was given the job of being CEO of Georgia State University.

“It's really fun," she said. "Today I'm making sure my job is running smoothly and my business, with the help of my employees.”

"I'm really excited; I think we are going to run very well." 

Nabulsi said that she and her employees had two main goals for the day: Don’t go into debt, and don’t get into any arguments.

"We have a strategy of making sure we keep count of all our money when we spend or give, to make sure we know how much money we have," she said with a laugh.  

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According to Junior Achievement of Georgia spokeswoman, Sarah Lippert, like Nabulsi’s group goal of figuring out a stable financial situation, they want each student that comes to the center to think about the relationship between what they make, what they spend, and all the other factors that make up a macroeconomy.

"The end goal of the day is to pay off your business loan," she said. "They are all given basically a startup loan from the bank and they want to pay that back." 

Lippert said that across the country there are 30 similar Junior Achievement Discovery Centers, and this new center is the third in Georgia.

With their current facilities, Lippert said they reach about a third of the middle schoolers in Georgia and in the future, they hope to build more centers to reach as many students as possible. 

“We want to give students the most realistic vision of their future that we can,” She said. “And we are really excited to be here in this community to launch this facility … we can’t wait to serve these 15,000 kids a year up here.”