Cindy Lange-Kubick joined the Lincoln Journal Star in 1994 and has loved covering life in her hometown ever since. Will write for chocolate. Or coffee.

The lesson plan involved doughnuts.

And the second-graders of Room 118 seemed as excited as Homer Simpson by the thought, as did one visiting reporter who regularly finds herself in the Krispy Kreme drive-through.

Junior Achievement, it seems, knows how to hook a diverse demographic.

JA is a big deal in Lincoln’s schools and Tuesday I found out why.

The group’s 800 volunteers make learning about economics entertaining.

Take Dean Belka, who has put in 30 years teaching students of all ages what makes a business -- and, in turn, a town, a state, a country -- run.

This week, Belka is spending 30 minutes each afternoon at Riley Elementary in the company of some savvy 7-year-olds.

He’s holding up one-word flashcards: Goods. Services. Product. Produce.

He’s asking what those words mean. What’s a good? What’s a service? What’s a product? What does it mean to produce one?

And the citizens of the town he calls Rileyville have some pretty accurate ideas.

“The best thing about the program is the look in the kids’ eyes when they get it,” Belka will say later.

Belka and his wife, Sue, became involved in JA when they lived in Colorado and continued after they moved back to their hometown in 1990 where, decades earlier, Sue’s father, Dan Remigio, had rallied Lincoln businesses and started a chapter.

The chapter grew. And grew.

Today, it reaches 31,000 students in 12 Nebraska counties. Little kids just learning to count and big kids on their way to careers.

JA has five paid employees but it relies on a network of helpers to make the program run.

And they can always use more, Belka says. Especially in the spring, when the timing best suits teachers to have them visit.

Right now they are short 175 helpers to finish off the school year.

That’s why Belka has invited me to Rileyville and the making of Sweet “O” Donuts. He wants me to see how easy it is.

And how fun.

There’s a step-by-step guide book. A handy carrying case with all the materials -- flash cards and posters and, in the case of second-graders, dozens of paper doughnuts and hundreds of tiny stickers.

Each kid is different. Third-graders design a city and fifth-graders learn about STEM and middle schoolers learn about budgeting and high schoolers explore the global economy.

But for all the second-graders: sweets.

Belka poses a rhetorical question before breaking the students up into small groups: “Anybody like doughnuts?”

Hands rise like doughnut holes in hot oil.

Then the students get to work.

Two groups in assembly-line fashion, one worker punching out doughnuts, another coloring in blueberries, others in charge of affixing the milk sticker, the flour sticker, the egg sticker.

Two groups take the rugged individualist model -- each member making a doughnut start to finish.

Sign up for our daily news email

The top headlines from JournalStar.com. Delivered at 11 a.m. Monday-Friday.

The concepts are big but the execution is easy.

“Understanding how the world spins and what allows it to spin and what slows it down,” Belka says.

How to start a business and run a business. What taxes do. How money works.

They teach to the level of the students, Belka says. And JA teaches volunteers just how to do it.

Staff can walk volunteers through the curriculum in 30 minutes. (Or they’re happy to schedule a lunch and learn with businesses that want to offer the volunteer opportunity to employees.)

The commitment: five 30- to 45-minute sessions over the course of the school year.

April and May are waiting for you to volunteer. (No need to be a business expert. No need to be affiliated with a company.)

On Tuesday, the boss of Sweet “O” Donuts -- a wisp of a girl wearing glasses and one long braid -- wanders the room looking for defective doughnuts.

And why do we care about defective doughnuts, Class?

Belka helps answer his own question: “Your pay tomorrow will depend on how many good doughnuts you make.”

But that’s a lesson for another day.

On this day, the Junior Achievement class ends just the way it should.

With a discussion of taxes and potholes.

And enough powdered sugar doughnuts for each and every small citizen of Rileyville.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @TheRealCLK.


Load comments