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Jamie Batschke joined the School of Economics (SOE) as its executive director in 2021 after working in the non-profit space for more than 30 years. Here, she discusses changes the organization has implemented during her time and what’s in store for the future of SOE.

At the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, SOE implemented some new approaches, such as shorter sessions, partnering with other community organizations and providing high school students with volunteer opportunities.

How are those working out? Any bright spots and/or challenges?

We have worked very hard to keep identifying challenges and barriers schools are grappling with. We do our best to make accommodations and show support as we work together to ensure the students have the best possible learning experience at SOE. We have reduced the hours — from four to three and a half — on a few of our field trips this year. Those days remained excellent learning opportunities for the students and our strategic planning.

SOE is building strong partnerships with an increasing number of non-profits and other organizations in our community. We have already scheduled June field trips with Jackson County Parks & Recreation for this summer, and we are currently planning field trips with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City. We plan to offer summer field trips to homeschool groups, school districts throughout the metro as an activity for their summer school program, and special education students.

Our teen volunteer/mentor program is also going well. We have teens scheduled to volunteer this year from Allen Village School, Blue Springs High School business accelerator class, Richmond R-XVI School District and Lee’s Summit International Baccalaureate Program. These are mostly schools that had teen volunteers that served with us last year, and it was such a positive experience for everyone that they are returning with new teens to volunteer again.

What has the general feedback on these new approaches been from the students, teachers and families?

Students love SOE. They are very empowered during our field trip to make decisions, engage in real-world learning and have their classroom learning come to life! I’m still amazed at the number of young adults I meet that attended SOE in elementary school and go on and on about what a great experience they had. They always remember what role they had and details about the day.

The teachers are juggling so many things right now, and they are very appreciative that we prioritize doing everything within our ability to support them. There are issues like shortages of bus drivers and other barriers that affect the field trips and are out of their control. These types of challenges affect their field trip planning, and we aim to help with that in every way we can.

We have many family support/volunteers for our program at both locations. We rely on volunteers to help facilitate the dynamic learning environment SOE creates for our students. We have such great feedback from families and community volunteers regarding the positive impact our program has on youth.

What seems to be the kids’ favorite part of the program?

SOE offers kids opportunities to learn and excel outside of the classroom environment. I’ve had many teachers share that students who struggle in the classroom often excel at SOE. This is because of the hands-on learning we offer, the rewards that come from hard work and creativity in their roles and a collaborative and dynamic team environment in their shops. All students enjoy the empowerment in decision-making around purchases, branding and pricing of their products and receiving paychecks for their great work.

Do you have any updates/new approaches for the next school year that you can share?

We plan to continue to extend our program to serving youth year-round in 2025, versus only running field trips during the traditional school year. We have been laying the foundation for this transition for the past two years, and I’m very excited about this positive growth in the program!

There is a first-ever fundraising event in July. What do you hope to accomplish and how can people get involved?

Taste of SOE will be a great inaugural event to celebrate our 30 years of positively impacting youth and building their financial capabilities! Our board, led by Zack Geurin, is working very hard to get the word out and gain sponsorships for this event. We hope to have around 100 guests come to celebrate SOE on July 25. We understand some people won’t be able to attend but would like to offer a donation to SOE and we appreciate that very much as well. All the event details can be found on our website.