HS Juniors Positioned for Future Business Success

Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm, and Sid Vivek, CEO of Junior Achievement of San Diego County, take a moment to pose at Lincoln High School after a group of juniors at the school were commended for their spring semester JA Fellows presentation . Photo by Karen Perlman

There was a time when Diego LaRoya had little interest in studying or furthering his education. The Lincoln High School student said he didn’t care if he passed or failed his classes, wasn’t paying attention in class and often fell asleep in lectures.

“My mentality all through high school was if I failed a class, I didn’t care,” LaRoya said. “My brother and younger cousins ​​stared at me, but I had to want to change for myself.”


LaRoya found the impetus to change this year when San Diego County Junior Achievement came along with a pilot program called JA Fellows. The program, launched in January and championed by JA CEO Sid Vivek, offered LaRoya and more than 30 of his classmates the opportunity to connect with local businesses in the real world.
Students were celebrated and some shared their success stories at the JA Fellow Spring Semester Showcase held June 10 at Lincoln High. The event drew the students’ family members, friends, volunteers, JA leaders, Lincoln employees and numerous local business leaders, including Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm.

The JA Fellows program is designed to connect 11th grade students with the San Diego business community through a year of leadership and work-based learning similar to LEAD San ​​Diego. The program provided Lincoln students with basic knowledge of the local economy, personal finance, career paths and job readiness.

The program ran five days a week for an entire semester, providing classroom-to-career skills through experiential programming with partners like Life Science Cares and Reality Changers.

Students had weekly lessons and were provided with tools using a curriculum aligned with the Common Core from industry partners in San Diego.

One to two days a month, they had the opportunity to go onsite and observe work at companies representing high-growth industries and career paths.

They will also receive paid on-the-job learning opportunities during the summer and fall of their senior year.

Connecting with social capital

The program connected students with social capital through industry mentors, financial capital through scholarships and paid work-based learning opportunities – and real-world experience directly related to San Diego industries.

Businesses including Cox Communications, Deloitte, EY, HawthorneCAT, LPL Financial, Mission Fed, Pepsi, Qualcomm, Vertex and Wells Fargo reached out to partner with the Junior Achievement team and Lincoln High in San Diego to give students insight for the real world.

“At the beginning of my freshman year, I started to realize how important school is,” LaRoya said. “I joined the JA program knowing I wanted to do something with my life, but I didn’t know how.”

LaRoya, who has long had an interest in food and cooking, was connected through the JA Fellows program with Maya Madsen of Maya’s Cookies.

Lessons in entrepreneurship

From Madsen, LaRoya learned how she grew her local startup selling at local farmers markets into the best black-owned gourmet vegan cookie business.



“I learned about money management and customer service and how to be an entrepreneur — and I learned that it doesn’t happen overnight,” LaRoya said. “Maya’s story resonated with me and I saw how she started from scratch. And if Maya can do it, so can I.”
The program is exactly what Lincoln students need to prepare for the future, said co-principal Melissa Agudelo.

“We know what these kids can do,” Agudelo said. “We know that talent is evenly distributed; we know that possibility is not. But it takes people like Sidd and JA who are willing to step up and show up here every day to say, ‘We see the talent, yeah, clearly, it’s right there. We just have to make sure the opportunity arises for them as well.”

Agudelo called the group of 36 students who graduated from the program “remarkable,” but said “there are 1,400 more ready for what these students killed them for… This is what our kids are capable of. The sky’s the limit.”


Lori Williams, Lincoln’s college and career pathway coordinator, said the cohort that will be in the class of 2023 has a huge advantage. “They’re learning financial literacy, personal and global financial literacy, learning how our global economic system works. Not just how it works from a textbook, but actually talking to bankers, talking to business owners, learning how entrepreneurship helps power our economy.
LaRoya said the connections made also pushed him to start paying attention in class. “I felt motivated to study and started turning in my assignments on time.”

LaRoya said his career as a restaurant owner is now on the line. “JA has given me all the resources I need, all that’s left now is how to build it.”

Lincoln Co-Director Stephanie Brown said Kaiser Permanente recently donated $50,000 to the program to purchase professional clothing for the students to prepare them to fit into the business world.

“So you can go to an internship and feel a sense of belonging, that you really belong there,” she told the students. “Because you belong there.”

San Diego County Junior Achievement
CEO: Sid Vivek
HEADQUARTERS: Grantville, San Diego
BUSINESS: Non-profit
REVENUE: $3 million
CONTACT: (619) 682-5155
NOTABLE: Since its inception in 1950, more than one million students in San Diego County have gone through JA programs.

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