The list of subjects 12-year-old Dawson Lowe finds interesting tumble out in a torrent of words as he ticks each of them off on his fingers: math, science—especially “frog labs,” business, engineering, space, soccer and bow-hunting, to name just a few. Dawson, who will start eighth grade at Oak Grove Middle School in Bloomington, this fall, is also a veteran of JA BizTown Summer Camp, an experience he found to be so interesting and engaging that he’s participated in the business simulation four times over the past four years.
For those not familiar with the JA BizTown concept, Dawson is eager to describe it: it’s a simulated city where kids have an opportunity to take an active part in running one of 15 businesses located throughout the JA BizTown campus, each with its own store front situated around a “town square,” complete with street lights, sidewalks and trees.
Although today Dawson happily discusses his JA BizTown experiences, he admits he was nervous and maybe even a little scared the first time he walked through the doors of the summer camp as a fourth-grader. His grandfather, Rex Lowe, a mechanical engineer at 3M, remembers dropping Dawson off at the camp for his first day, and says that his grandson was more than a little apprehensive about the experience. “The first day I was really nervous about going, about all the new people that would be there and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to talk to them,” Dawson says, adding, “but they were really friendly!”
Later that day, when his grandpa returned to pick Dawson up, “He literally would not stop talking about it,” Lowe says, noting that Dawson had both a big grin on his face and a hundred details to share about working as the CFO for the gift shop at JA BizTown. “He told me on the way home from the last day of camp that he really wanted to be a CEO the next year,” adds Lowe. Dawson went on to fulfill that goal. He worked as CEO for two years at the Business Service Center and then as the CEO/director of the Postal Service at JA BizTown.
“The best thing I learned about being a CEO is that being the boss is really fun,” Dawson says and then laughs. “I wanted to be a CEO because you just have a little bit more control over what everyone is doing, and can kind of look over everything people are working on. When I was the CFO, I guess I felt a little more confined to the computer. As CEO, you get to walk around the whole business.”
Besides having fun, Dawson says he learned a tremendous amount about business and life skills through the program. “I would describe JA BizTown as a place where you can learn about living your life as a grownup and how to manage your money and start a bank account, and also learn about how to work with other people,” Dawson says. “I think I really learned a lot about finance, and about how to use checks and things like that, which I didn’t know anything about before. What surprised me about JA BizTown was how friendly and interactive all the staff was. I kind of thought they would be more like ‘teachers,’ where it always felt like they were teaching you and just confined to that and not expanding to other topics, but it wasn’t like that at all. I don’t think there was anything about JA BizTown that I didn’t like!”