Hope Academy

Nathan Ziegler, principal of Hope Academy

For Nathan Ziegler, principal of the upper school at Minneapolis-based Hope Academy, the kind of experiential learning provided to his students by JAUM and the school’s corporate partner, U.S. Bank, feels right on target. Ziegler has spent the past 11 years at the faith-based school located in the inner-city Phillips neighborhood, one of the city’s more economically disadvantaged areas. More than three-fourths of students at the school are children of color; 32 percent speak more than one language, and the average household family income is less than half that of Hennepin County as a whole.

With the help of U.S. Bank volunteers, Hope Academy is now able to offer the JA experience to all of the school’s 475 students, from kindergarten to senior year. Ziegler says the real-world lessons of JA, delivered by people who are themselves in the business world, resonate with students. “A lot of different JA programs happen here,” says Ziegler. “Some are multi-day visits where U.S. Bank volunteers come between four and eight times. Sometimes it’s a one-day event, like JA in a Day. We’ve been doing JA Job Shadow for a number of years, where our seniors go down to the bank. The volunteers talk to the kids about all sorts of things, from hiring to firing to the impact of social media and a person’s presence there, for good or bad. They’re giving the kids a taste of what their life is like, and it brings the kids to a place where they can start seeing themselves in that position.”

Ziegler says having volunteers teach JA at Hope Academy also exposes students to important concepts that will help them later in life. “For our sixth graders, one of the JA activities is to look at different career maps,” he says. “The volunteers talk about a lot of different careers and help the kids see, ‘If I want this career, this is what that’s going to take.’ Getting our students to think forward like that is a really, really helpful thing.” Ziegler adds that the JA experience also provides benefits for students by letting them explore their passions and talents in a unique format.

“I was asking various teachers to tell me about the impact that JA has had on our kids,” he says. “One told me she had a 7th grader who she’d been talking to for an entire year, saying, ‘You really have some leadership qualities in you, but you’re not owning them.’ And then that student went to JA BizTown and became the mayor. His teacher thinks that became a defining moment for him, when he was able to see and feel and experience what it was like to lead. When he came back as an 8th grader, we started to see a drive and focus in him that we hadn’t seen before. He’d had that experience of stepping into leadership, and it just ignited something in him. We think JA BizTown helped start that for him.”