SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The nonprofit Junior Achievement of Arkansas (JA) is teaching students around the state to make smart decisions with money and how to choose a career.

“We teach programs to kids in kindergarten all the way through seniors in high school,” said Erica Preston, director of market development at Simmons Bank and a board member for JA.

With the help of volunteers, Junior Achievement goes into classrooms with lessons in financial literacy, work and career readiness, and entrepreneurship.

“We’ll talk about what’s the difference between a debit card and a credit card, or how do you set a budget, or how do you determine what career you want based on the education level that you need, or the salary for that career to help you determine what type of lifestyle that you want to live,” Preston said.

The goal is to help students make the connection between what they learn in school and the world outside the classroom.

“We have the programs developed and ready and we’ve got volunteers that are excited to help be in the classrooms and teach,” Preston said.

In late March, Junior Achievement was at J.O. Kelly Middle School in Springdale where volunteers taught the curriculum to sixth and seventh graders who are part of the school’s Knight Time program.

“We worked with the kids on career pathing and setting their career goals so that they can learn about what careers are available and what education they might need to reach those career goals that they’ve set for themselves,” Preston said.

One of the students who participated was sixth grader Ruth Ontiveros. “Half of it was learning, and the other half was playing games and learning how you can achieve jobs, and in transforming your hobbies into real-life careers,” Ontiveros said.

At the moment, Ontiveros is torn between two career paths. She either wants to work for a marketing and advertising business, or she’d like to become a lawyer, “because right now my parents are in the middle of trying to get their green card because they’re immigrants,” she continued. “I have good persuasive traits.”

The lessons she learned from JA really opened her eyes to things she hadn’t thought about before.

Ontiveros learned that not only do you have to graduate from college, but also attend law school.

“That’s a lot of years and it made me think, do I really want to be determined about doing it? And the survey helped me think about it more,” Ontiveros said. “It made me realize that there’s a bunch of work into putting what you want as a career.”

It was an eye-opening experience for Ontiveros who left feeling inspired.

“When [volunteers] were telling us their stories of how they got into banking, I liked that they said, ‘Oh, it’s because I didn’t know what else to do, and I just worked on it.’ But now, I eventually like it. So that’s kind of like saying that you don’t like something until you try it and I think that’s very inspirational.”

“To see those kids make a decision or grasp a concept that maybe they hadn’t heard before and really kind of get excited about maybe what their future holds.”

To raise money to continue the programs offered, Junior Achievement will host a Bowl-A-Thon Friday, April 21.

“One thing we’re always looking for at Junior Achievement are volunteers that are excited to bring these lessons into the classrooms, into the schools,” Preston said.

To learn more about JA, find out about available volunteer opportunities or donate, click here.