Early money lessons could pay dividends

Posted 5/1/10

Kids are learning important financial lessons earlier in life in the hope they will be better prepared for real-world situations. Junior Achievement, …

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Early money lessons could pay dividends


Kids are learning important financial lessons earlier in life in the hope they will be better prepared for real-world situations.

Junior Achievement, a nonprofit organization built on a foundation of financial literacy, work readiness, free enterprise and innovation, has been helping children learn the essentials about economics for nearly 100 years.

The early teachings are based on the premise that habits are formed at a young age, and the sooner kids can get a grasp on responsible financial decision-making, the better.

“They are as necessary now as they were in past generations,” said Robin Wise, president and chief executive officer of Junior Achievement in Denver.

Junior Achievement was once an after-school club, but over the years, it morphed into K-12 programs that are free-of-charge and taught during the school day, but not by the students’ regular teachers. The program relies on the expertise of volunteers, local businessmen and women who donate their time to impart their knowledge about how the financial world works.

“The volunteers don’t lecture. They present a concept and then lead hands-on activities that reinforce that concept,” Wise said.

The lessons are tailored to specific age groups: first-graders, for example, learn about scarcity and needs versus wants. Middle-schoolers learn about budgeting, as well as the link between a good education and the amount of money one can make in their professional career. Some older students play a game in which they are given cash and credit and must stay within a budget to make ends meet.

The program, however, reaches beyond just money. High school students learn resume writing and interviewing skills, which can be critical in landing a job in their desired industry.

Junior Achievement programs will reach roughly 11,500 students in the Douglas County School District this year. The bulk of the lessons — about 30 percent — are taught to elementary students, compared with 6 percent of Douglas County middle school students and 10 percent of high school students that get a financial education from the group. The reason for the disparity is the lack of volunteers for those grade levels, Wise said.

Junior Achievement trains business volunteers — there are approximately 3,200 in the Denver area alone — to enter the classroom fully loaded with information that can have a major impact of decisions far down the road.

Castle Pines North resident Todd Kemp, a father of two young children, decided to volunteer in his child’s school after a flier was sent home seeking parents who might be interested in the role. For about five years, Kemp has visited Buffalo Ridge Elementary and Timber Trail Elementary on a regular basis. He not only gets the satisfaction of teaching a valuable lesson, he is also setting a good example for his kids. His 9-year-old son recently offered a rewarding comment: “Dad, my class loves you.”

Students tend to be more engaged in the subject because it is different material taught by a different person. Kemp says he brings his own flair and style to the curriculum, and for five weekly sessions, gives them the low-down on how businesses and families are connected to the economy. The individual lessons typically last 25-45 minutes, depending on grade level. The subject matter, which is not always a part of normal curriculums, might not reach kids without Junior Achievement’s contribution.

“It’s something I think gets overlooked in educational environments,” says Kemp, who once worked for a Fortune 500 company and now runs a CEO peer advisory group. “The sooner they figure it out the better.”

Kemp says he is thankful for the privilege to have a positive impact in local classrooms, including those that include his own children, because he believes it will “pay dividends” in the future. He encourages other parents to take a more active role in their child’s school. Empowering young people and preparing them for the real world is critical, especially in times of economic turmoil.

“There is an urgent need, given everything that’s going on in world,” Wise said. “A lack of knowledge impacts families.”


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