Financial Literacy – a Marathon, Not a Sprint

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Championing Financial Literacy has certainly been a marathon and not a sprint for me. That’s a good thing since nobody would ever describe me as being fast.

Today officially kicks off financial literacy month in the United States.

Here’s the history of how the month-long event got started. Back in 2000, The National Endowment for Financial Education introduced Youth Financial Literacy Day and turned it over to the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy so that the event would not promote any one organization and instead focus on financial literacy as a whole.

The Jump$tart Coalition and its approximately 150 partners expanded the event to a month in 2003. In March 2004 the Senate passed Resolution 316 that officially recognized April as National Financial Literacy Month.

I’ve been at it for less than the 17 years, or so the month-long event has been in place. In fact, my efforts span about four years now. After my family and I got our financial act together in 2010 and pay off our $109,000 worth of consumer debt in 2015, I began to have the urge to help others in my community.

I wanted others to experience the life-changing impacts of paying off debt and taking control of your money. It was right around that time my local school board, and superintendent put out a call for community involvement. I took that opportunity to get involved, and have never looked back.

Volunteering to Champion Financial Literacy

Being a dad of three children, and being involved in their lives, including their schoolwork. I was clear that they were not getting taught the basic personal finance skills young adults need from our a school district.

My wife and I were doing our part at home to prepare our children for their financial lives but wondered what about all the other kids in our community. What if their parents were not as financially savvy as we had become?

This is where I believe a school district can play a part. I was one of ten parents who became part of a committee to help improve the effectiveness of the curriculum, provide feedback, and help better our students.

It was interesting to hear the different points of view from the nine other parents and the areas they deemed important. The group was all over the map from less homework, more recess, social media, anti-bullying, etc. There I was to champion financial literacy.

The committee met once a month during the school year, and attendance had its peaks and valleys, but I always attended. We eventually landed on the idea of enlisting feedback from former students and what they thought of the school district and how well it prepared them for life after it.

We were able to gather over 250 responses from a short survey and guess what one of the top four items on the list. The former students wished our school district had better prepared them for handling money after high school. There were other things identified, and based on this feedback sub-committees were formed to deal with the individual items.

Financial Literacy Sub-committee

The goal of each sub-committee was to put together recommendations for how to improve them problem identified, and present them to the board of education for approval. The only directions we were given was to outline a three-year plan and have no budget impact for years one and two.

The financial literacy sub-committee met once a month and began developing our three-year plan. We are a large school district. Six thousand students spread across seven elementary schools, two middle, and one high school.

Our goal was to add a consistent financial literacy program to each school that would be built upon as the student advances through the grades. In our discovery were found out that our high school already had a full year financial literacy class in place, but since it was not a locally mandatory credit for graduation, so it often got overlooked.

We presented our three-year recommendations to the board of education in the spring of 2017, and they were unanimously approved. Our financial literacy program kicked off in the 2017-2018 school year and is currently in its second year.

Our Financial Program

Here’s what the program includes.

In grades Kindergarten to Fifth in each of our seven elementary schools, we have an individual banking program. Partnering with a local bank, students can open saving accounts.

We have partnered with the junior achievement program and run several session on financial education each year. We are also using a computer-based program called Vault from Everfi for all students in the 4th grade to teach them the basics of finance.

In middle school, all students are required to take family and consumer science course which covers some basics of personal, and we are also using the EverFi FutureSmart program for all students to help navigate financial problems they may face.

At our high school, there is a 30% enrollment rate for a full-year personal financial literacy class. Another 50% receive some personal finance education in economics, and we have 20% of the high school population that have no formal training on the topic. That’s a gap we are trying to address.

So that’s where we stand today, a far cry from where we first started, with just the stand along full-year personal finance class, that had little awareness. But we still want more. The sub-committee is currently scoping the impact of adding a half-year personal finance class mandatory for graduation available for all 10-12 graders.

We are reviewing the budget, and staffing implications, and plan to present our recommendation to the board of education for approval in the next few months.

We want to make sure all high school students have formal personal finance education before they graduate. So no matter what stage of your education career you are in there is some financial education. A student who started within our district in kindergarten and graduated from high school will have the full benefit of financial literacy at all levels.

Four years of meetings and work to get to this point, but it’s all been worth it and I think I’m finding my running pace, too.

Let me know if you are interested in getting involved in your local community or school district. I’m happy to provide any advice from my experience.