Teaching Students Sense About Dollars
First grader Angelina Kane of Elmira is already planning her investments.
The Diven Elementary School student is thinking about saving money to purchase materials to make a dress. She dreams of becoming a fashion designer, but knows she needs a business plan that assures she can sell the dress for more than she spends to create it.
She got her money savvy after taking part in a Junior Achievement program that teaches personal finance, economics and the importance of job readiness.
Southern Tier students like Angelina are getting life lessons in money from a partnership of educators, non-profit organizations and local businesses. They have banded together to teach the next generation of consumers and workers how to manage their money.
Julie Keenan of Binghamton is a business teacher in charge of the Broome Tioga New Visions Business Academy, a program run through BOCES, that teaches personal finance and economics to high achieving high school seniors.
"Money is money. Everyone has to deal with it and might as well be smart about it," Keenan said.
Many of her students, on a scale of 1-10 grading their knowledge of personal finance prior to entering her program, are a four Keenan said.
"When they leave me they are at a nine or a 10. They love it, they are very interested in learning how to make their money grow," Keenan said.
Everything from how to write a check to how to calculate compound interest is taught. However, as a parent of children who are in or going to be in the Binghamton City School District, Keenan bemoaned that many school districts don't have the budget or resources to fully invest in teaching business and finance to students.
"I would love to see this taught consistently through school, my daughter is in kindergarten, and I am already trying to get her comfortable saving money," Keenan said.
However, having had her position as a business teacher at a Binghamton area school cut due to budgetary reasons, she said she knows that is not the reality.
"It was a loss for those students," she said.
To help fill that void a combination of non-profit organizations, like Junior Achievement of Central Upstate New York, and local businesses, like the Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, are working with school districts.
Joe Cummins, Community Development Educator for Alternatives, said Alternatives has been helping teach personal finance in schools since 1998.
"Surveys kept showing that high school seniors were failing financial literacy surveys year after year," said Cummins of Ithaca.
Cummins, who works in school districts throughout Tompkins County, said a lifelong habit of consistently adding to a savings account is one that is best started early.
"A lot of people say that saving was never a priority. That's where paycheck to paycheck comes from. Right now we have elementary school children with savings. A lot of kids call it a college fund. That's incredible," Cummins said.
He recounted how one elementary school age girl saved for three years to buy a puppy.
Mandy DeHate, marketing manager for Visions Federal Credit Union said Visions operates a series of programs at school districts throughout the greater Binghamton area.
"We want students to know about finance early on so there are no surprises later in life, like when they want a new car or even something as simple as a new cell phone," said DeHate of Endicott.
Amy Shaw, vice president of member services for the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, called programs like the ones Junior Achievement, Visions and Alternatives operates critical.
"I don't think students are necessarily getting those kinds of classes in school without them, and they may not always learn financial literacy skills at home," said Shaw of Binghamton.
Tammy Schoonover, executive director of Junior Achievement Central Upstate New York Twin Tier Region, said she has programs running in the Horseheads, Elmira and Corning school districts.
"Our mission is teaching children to own their own success," said Schoonover of Big Flats.
To that end, Junior Achievement holds all-day sessions in elementary schools around the area filled with volunteers from local businesses. The programs are designed to teach students personal finance, economics and the importance of job readiness. Recently, Junior Achievement was in Diven Elementary School in Elmira with volunteers from several local area businesses for an all-day session that left many involved encouraged by the results.
Steven Burns, director of quality at Cameron Manufacturing said he took the day off to volunteer to speak. Burns, of Big Flats, complained that far too many students enter the workforce without the basic skills needed to succeed personally and professionally.
"But programs like this can really help," he said.
Acting Diven Building Administrator Heather Donovan said that it is good to expose the children to things they don't usually encounter in school.
"I think we should be doing more of this, the children respond to it so well."
Second grade teacher Stephanie Roby agreed, adding that she enjoys the program because it teaches students about personal responsibility, which is vital to their development both as students and as people.
Original article: Ithaca Journal, Benjamin Klein, Correspondent 1:17 a.m. EDT, April 6, 2015.