Florida School for At-Risk Students and Bank Team Up to Educate Students on Financial Services
The James Irvin Education Center (JIEC), in Dade City, Florida, is an alternative school in the Pasco County School System for 189 at-risk students in grades 6 through 12 with academic and/or behavioral issues. The mission of the JIEC is to positively engage students in grade-level courses so that they learn the skills required to successfully return to their previous schools, earn their diplomas and be productive members of society.
In 2012, JIEC Principal Nancy Guss attended a meeting with other local educators, community leaders, and representatives from businesses based in Dade City to discuss career-development needs and opportunities for Pasco County students. Ms. Guss described the need for JIEC students to develop life skills that would help make them positive contributors to the community, both economically and socially. After the meeting, Earl Young, Vice President of Florida Traditions Bank, told Ms. Guss about the FDIC's Money Smart for Young Adults (MSYA) curriculum. Within weeks, JIEC teachers were trained on the curriculum by the FDIC, and the bank provided initial resources to defray costs associated with the delivery of Money Smart classes. Using Money Smart, the school's staff also agreed to teach an additional class each day, for no additional pay, in order to create a new “Leadership Class,” where students could learn about school success, and career and life skills through money management.
Dock Harris, a math teacher, led the school staff in merging MSYA into an existing class and creating a pre- assessment to gauge students’ knowledge of money and personal finances. According to Principal Guss, "Some of our students have not been introduced to good financial practices that lead to better financial futures. They have no idea about the impact that a poor credit rating can have on the prices they pay for essentials, such as insurance. Quite a few know more about pawn shops and check-cashing businesses than banks or credit unions, or how to save to purchase a car or home. We began with a pre-assessment designed for their circumstances that would give us a better idea of what to cover." The results, she said, indicated that only 34 percent of the students understood basic money concepts.
Starting with the 2013 spring semester, on one day each week, JIEC teachers led the students through 16 learning exercises and assignments on banking terms, writing checks and balancing accounts. The results provided new information about how little background knowledge the students had. For many of the lessons, the teachers said they had to slow down or backtrack and try different angles. They were also concerned whether students could apply the newly learned concepts. But at the end of the school year, a post-assessment showed that 64 percent of the students understood the basic concepts, up from the original 34 percent. "I am excited to see this increase in students’ understanding of finances," Guss said. "Money Smart has had a positive impact on our students."
That's why she and the school's administration developed a three-year plan to expand financial education using Money Smart as the foundation, including additional teacher training. "For the 2013-2014 academic year, we will have Money Smart in the class all year and we will connect it with math lessons that have real-life applications to their personal lives," Guss noted.
For example, the students will open their own JIEC "bank account" and monitor their finances. To do this, the school's administration decided to change an incentive for good behavior and academic performance from a point-card system to one for which students will earn JIEC "dollars" for their account at the school. The students can use what they save to buy extra time in an activity or craft room or purchase items from the school store. Each leadership classroom also will serve as a bank office where students can deposit their earnings, monitor their deposits and withdrawals, and understand how their interest is calculated.
Guss said she is confident that with her students' increased understanding of how finances work, they will have a better chance of contributing to their community.
Similar comments came from James S. "Bud" Stalnaker, Jr., Chairman, President and CEO of Florida Traditions Bank. He said the bank became involved in the FDIC's Money Smart program "to help make a difference in a child's life. We have always felt that the best place to invest our resources is in tomorrow's leaders."