Educator Teams Up to Teach Finance to Young Children

Article excerpt

Based on current research and conventional wisdom, financial education should begin at an early age. With the exception of a few generally underutilized in- school banking programs, Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore, like so many other areas across the nation, has few or no school-based financial literacy programs. Although educators understand the importance of teaching students basic money skills, tight schedules, lack of resources and low confidence in utilizing resources effectively stand as barriers to meeting this newly recognized priority.

A partnership with 23 public, private, and parochial schools and Head Start centers was developed to inspire and educate more than 5,000 children, ages 3 to 11, their parents, and their classroom teachers on making saving money a habit. The Parents and Teachers as Wealth Coaches project embodied a unique educational, entrepreneurial, and philanthropic triad of resources coming together to provide a high quality, best solution financial education program via the regular school setting, without discrimination, to all students. The goals were to reach young children with basic messages of personal financial responsibility, to deliver age-appropriate educational resources and, in the process, to model ways of teaching personal finance to teachers and parents - and to connect with as many individuals as possible.

The Parents and Teachers as Wealth Coaches project was born out of one educator's vision and it was driven by her determination. It began as an idea with no money and there was no assurance that school systems would be receptive, just a hope. There was no proof that it would be effective, just a belief . There was no corps of volunteers, just one Extension educator and a determination to bring public, private, and municipal resources together to formulate a high quality youth financial literacy education program that could be delivered in volume. Primary targeted areas for program delivery were Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties in southeastern Maryland. Somerset County has the distinction of being ranked highest among all 23 counties and the City of Baltimore in Maryland with regard to child poverty. According to a Children in Poverty (2007) survey, the Maryland statewide child poverty rate is 10%. The state data show the percentage of Somerset County children ages 0-17 who live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level is 27.9% and Wicomico and Worcester Counties trail closely, falling within the top six, with child poverty rates of 17.2% and 16.5%, respectively.

To identify the appropriate project partner, the Extension educator scanned available curricula for the target age group via Google. This research led to the discovery of the It's A Habit! Company, Inc., a Los Angeles based socially conscious small business specializing in financial literacy education geared to young children and their mentors. The It's A Habit! website (http://www.itsahabit.com/) indicates it is "dedicated to changing children's lives one dime at a time." The founder, Sam X Renick, created mascot character programs to compliment his self-authored books. They have been piloted in several schools in California. The programs seemed a perfect fit for the project: affordable, scalable to different ages and stages, developmentally appropriate and multi- sensory. After 7 years in business, the company's method has gained positive and reputable acclaim from educators, professional associations, and the media. The multiple communication modes (music, movement, reading aloud, call and response, and paper and pencil activities) seemed to teach and excite all children. At the same time, the materials and live performances have the potential to inspire teachers and parents in imaginative and fun ways to reinforce messages about saving, spending, and financial responsibility both in school and at home.

To address the need, 23 school-based student assemblies and one Head Start Family Read night were organized and conducted between October 2006 and November 2008. …