Tonawanda News

May 19, 2013

Learning finances at an early age

Barbara Tucker
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — At Cardinal O’Hara High School in the Town of Tonawanda, 82 seniors had the opportunity to see a classroom from the teacher’s perspective.

The students, part of the Junior Achievement program that is a mainstay in O’Hara’s economics class, were broken into groups of three, and after initial training by Alycia Ivancie, senior education manager at JA, were sent off to 10 local elementary schools to teach second through fifth-graders.

The teams taught a 30 to 40-minute class twice a week for four weeks, concluding May 14 with the presentation of awards and certificates. Students learned how to manage money and how business works.

“The kids were so energized and excited when we came in the class,” Fran Gariano, who taught second-graders at Ohio School in North Tonawanda, said.

Her team members, Miranda Empric and Emma Gargala, echoed Gariano’s observation.

“We taught 16 to 18 students and we were surprised at how extremely well behaved they were and so into technology,” Miranda said. “They really liked the board games that teach about money.” 

Gargala talked about the awards and certificates the students received at the end of the four-week course.

“We really enjoyed being teachers and fell in love with the program,” Gargala said.

Ivancie explained that work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy are the three pillars of JA.

“Locally 140 schools are part of our programs,” Ivancie said. “However, just handful are doing what Gary Gross is doing, going out to schools and having students run their own businesses.”

Gross, who has been teaching economics at O’Hara for 20 years, said that many O’Hara graduates who were part of the JA teaching, have gone on to become teachers and they all credited JA.

“I love what I’m doing and enjoy seeing how the students respond to the program,” Gross said.

“Gary was first to go into elementary schools,” Ivancie said. “O’Hara is unique to our area. Success is shown in the fact that the elementary schools come back year after year. They keep wanting him. He’s a good testament to JA and to O’Hara,” she said.

Ivancie noted that when she comes to O’Hara to do training, students have a “little bit of nerves but after they get into the thick of things, they really seem to enjoy it,” she said. 

Mary Holzerland, principal at O’Hara, also praises the program.

“It’s a great opportunity to see the educational process from a teacher’s perspective,” Holzerland said. “The students dress professionally, act professionally and get a glimmer of the excitement of teaching. They also learn responsibility because Gary trusts them to do their best,” she added.

Junior Achievement benefits from the program in a slightly different way, Ivancie said.

“We never have enough volunteers to teach in the classrooms, to get into the project and give students real world experience,” she said. “However, many of our volunteers have come from O’Hara. It’s the full scope teaching experience.”

JA volunteers are college students, retirees, parents, business owners and employees, she noted. For more information or to volunteer, call JA at 853-1381.

Contact community editor Barbara Tucker at 693-1000, ext. 4110 or email