JA ribbon cutting

From left are Patrice Matamoros, Ryan Rose, Nathan Chalus, Jim Nickel, Chrystal Sircely and Olivia Rajakovic.

Even though Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania’s JA BizTown opened in January 2020 in South Fayette Township, a ribbon was cut on behalf of the nonprofit’s experiential learning lab this July.

Performed during JA’s annual meeting, the act was symbolic of a return to action for JA BizTown. The simulated business community was scheduled to serve more than 3,000 fourth- through sixth-grade students in its first semester of operation, only for plans to be brought to a halt by COVID-19.

Stacey McLaughlin

Claysville Elementary School counselor Stacey McLaughlin accepts her Educator of the Year award.

The annual meeting served as an opportunity to provide an update on the organization’s accomplishments over the past year and a vision of educational initiatives in response to the region’s post-pandemic educational and workforce needs. Board members provided a state-of-the-organization update, and JA staff shared a preview of several new program initiatives and highlighted plans to reinvigorate the organization.

“In a year where teachers had to learn new ways to teach and students new ways to learn, we had to adjust and adapt with them,” said Patrice Matamoros, Junior Achievement of Western PA president. “As we prepare for the upcoming school year, we have the opportunity to reengage students in learning by providing authentic experiences that connect what they are learning to their future, exactly the types of experiences that JA provides.”

The annual meeting also provided an opportunity to celebrate the many accomplishments made by Junior Achievement students, teachers, volunteers, board members, elected officials, and corporate and community supporters.

The program concluded with four local JA students who shared their insights into the challenges they faced last school year because of COVID-19 and discussed the impact JA programs had on their education and future professional development.

Nathan Chalus, a 2021 graduate of Serra Catholic, shared his story of how Junior Achievement helped him become an entrepreneur.

“By participating in JA programs, I’ve gained the skills and tools I need to track my expenses, set rates and manage the different accounts that are part of my landscaping business,” he said.

These individuals and organizations for their contributions to the mission of Junior Achievement and for strengthening the communities that JA serves:

Educator of the Year –

  • Stacey McLaughlin, school counselor, Claysville Elementary School;
  • Above and Beyond Award (Company) – First Commonwealth Bank;
  • Above and Beyond Award (Individual) – Anna Frank, First Commonwealth Bank;
  • Student of the Year Award – Chrystal Sircely, senior at Sto-Rox Junior-Senior High School;
  • Volunteer of the Year – Jeffrey M. Coy, assistant professor of finance, Penn State Behrend.

Special guests for the annual meeting included Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor, who presented the Bob O’Connor JA Leadership Award to Erica Clayton Wright, representing the recipient, state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Greensburg.