Remember Exchange City? A new ‘youth learning lab’ is coming to KCK near Westwood

JA BizTown will be one of three learning programs at the new Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City Youth Learning Lab near Joe's Kansas City at 2842 W. 47th Avenue. Image courtesy of JAGKC.

A hands-on learning experience — similar to Exchange City, a field trip destination for Kansas City-area students growing up in the ’90s — is setting up shop in Kansas City, Kan., along 47th St., on the border with Johnson County.

Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City is occupying a 22,000-square-foot space in a strip mall at 2842 W. 47th Avenue that will house a “youth learning lab” that will aim to “give kids room to think up big ideas, explore careers they have only dreamed of, and practice crucial life-skills outside of the classroom.”

The centerpiece of the learning lab will be JA BizTown presented by CommunityAmerica Credit Union, a space of simulated storefronts featuring recognizable metro businesses, including Children’s Mercy Hospital, Price Chopper, Hallmark and nearly a dozen other local corporations and organizations.

Guided by volunteers, students in JA BizTown will learn how to manage “going to work, paying taxes, civic engagement” and other real-world skills, a concept that echoes the old Exchange City, which ran for more than three decades but shut down years ago.

There will be two additional learning venues at the site:

  • JA Innovation Center, which will feature “activities that foster an entrepreneurial mindset in students.”
  • JA Career Center, which focuses on middle school students, and will be a place for them to learn how to “leverage their interests and skills and future careers” as a way to start to answer “who can I become?”

‘When our kids are successful, our city is successful’

The youth learning lab is a years-long collaboration between Junior Achievement, Community America Credit Union, The Mallouk Family Foundation, The Sunderland Foundation and The Hall Family Foundation.

The lab intends to be a “real world incubator” for children with programs focused on entrepreneurship, real-world simulations and figuring out who they might become.

“Education is a catalyst for opportunity and economic empowerment: When our kids are successful, our city is successful,” Megan Sturges Stanfield, JAGKC chief executive officer and president, told attendees at the 20th anniversary of the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame event.

“I am proud to announce that the JAGCK youth learning lab will be arriving on the Kansas City skyline, serving as a youth incubator curating the next generation of JA Business Hall of Fame Laureates,” she said.

JABizTown isn’t the only real-world learning concept to take up the old mantle of Exchange City. The Blue Springs School of Economics has run a similar program for more than a quarter century and opened a second location in downtown Kansas City, Mo., last year.

Before Junior Achievement’s Youth Learning Lab opens its doors in 2021, there is just under $1.5 million left to raise. Information about donations can be found online here, or by reaching out to Sturges at msturges@jagkc.org.