Teaching youth the workings of business

Nick Stroman

There is no need for parents to keep quiet about the state of the economy around their children.

Students at more than 30 schools in Peoria and Tazewell counties have already been well-versed on how the business world works for a number of years, thanks to the programs of Junior Achievement of Central Illinois.

Each year, Junior Achievement finds volunteers from companies in the Central Illinois area to work with K-12 students in six different counties and educate them about the nuts and bolts of business and economics.

Joe Knoerle is the owner of Family Medical Equipment & Supply in Peoria and Morton and has been a JA classroom consultant volunteer for nearly a decade.

“I thought it was an opportunity for me as a businessman to give back to the community and the kids,” Knoerle said.

Knoerle works with fourth-grade students at Bethel Lutheran School in Morton and instructs them on how to run a business, much like he does himself.

“We have five sessions and they have to keep track of costs and expenses and running it week to week,” Knoerle said.

Knoerle even had the opportunity to teach his own grandson, Trevor, last school year, and he is coaching many of the same students as part of the boys basketball team at Bethel Lutheran.

“That was really a relationship I enjoyed and it has carried over to this year with the coaching. It was a neat coincidence to have Trevor in there,” Knoerle said, adding the team recently picked up a championship win at a tournament in Chillicothe.

Knoerle said he is also impressed with how well-behaved and respectful the students are at Bethel Lutheran.

“I think that is a testament to the master teachers there and their tremendous abilities. If I had to leave the room for a moment, I was never concerned if they were going to act up,” Knoerle added.

Knoerle said his classroom discussions were especially interesting last semester because the students talked a great deal about gas prices, which were steadily climbing at the time.

Knoerle added he not only touched on how small and large businesses were affected by the gas gouging, but also how average households were suffering.

“That first day, I asked them what they heard their parents talk or complain about most and gasoline was the resounding answer. It started up family conversations and gave them some understanding of what was in the news and what mom and dad were so upset about,” Knoerle said.

Knoerle said he expects when he returns to teach this spring, the economy will be weighing heavily on the students’ minds.

“It’s going to be an easy focus this year and I don’t expect much will change within these next few months, so I’m already prepared,” Knoerle said.

Chris Raap is an accountant at Caterpillar Inc. in Morton and has been volunteer teaching for sixth-grade students at Bethel Lutheran for the last three years.

Raap said it was his own experience as a student recipient of JA classes for six years in the Quad Cities that inspired him to sign up immediately when the school contacted CAT’s human resources department for volunteers.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it and remembered how fun it was when I was young. It’s great to feel that energy from a different age group and see their faces brighten up,” Raap said.

As an accountant, Raap said it was a natural fit to teach the kids about expenses and how to make their own business with different styles and creativity.

“Plus, I work at CAT, and most of the kids have some kind of connection to a relative that works there now or used to, so I can relate to them a bit more,” Raap said.

Raap is also expecting a barrage of economy-related questions when he returns to teach in March.

“It’s sixth grade, so they are a little more aware of what’s going on in the world today and how it’s affecting us around here. I plan on teaching them about the economy as a whole as well,” Raap said.

Raap said he is honored to be passing on the teachings he grew up with, and he hopes the kids come away with a better grasp of business and economics.

“It’s an awesome and unique experience for young minds to connect with a world they thought was outside of their realm,” Raap said.

To learn more about Junior Achievement and its many volunteering opportunities at area schools, call 682-1200.