The Most Important Lesson For Kids?
Can you afford the cable bill? How about school clothes for your four kids? Over 500 Prince George's County middle school students took a break from algebra and history last week to learn one of life's most important skills: money management.
Junior Achievement created the national program after the recent financial crisis, realizing school systems didn’t have the resources to teach money management. (It's expensive enough trying to learn how to spell Buffett, let alone become him.) The Greater Washington chapter brings every Fairfax County middle school student to its 20k square foot Finance Park in Fairfax, Va., for a day of learning about salaries, mortgages, car insurance, and all the other bills that come with adulthood. Capital One is the core sponsor and recently announced it would provide an additional $1.8M to support the Fairfax Finance Park and a $2.5M grant to build a Finance Park in Prince George's County that would open this fall. JA also recently got approved for a Finance Park in Montgomery County.
Finance Park is set up like a shopping mall, with store fronts representing necessities like food, clothing, housing, transportation, and healthcare. Students learn to budget for each expense based on assigned careers and salaries. They also spend 20 hours learning finance in their classrooms before coming to the park. Focus groups showed 8th graders are at the age when kids start wanting to spend money. Over 13,000 8th graders in Fairfax County and over 1,000 Prince George’s students have gone through Finance Park this school year.
Junior Achievement of Greater Washington CEO Ed Grenier, here with former Fed Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke at the Finance Park Fairfax opening in 2010, says the vision is to bring every middle school student in the entire DC region through a Finance Park experience. The organization also has a mobile pop-up version and virtual curriculum, but Ed says it’s worth it to build more Finance Parks to get a full immersion. The organization will start fundraising for a high school program next year and is talking to community colleges in Maryland about a strategy to help adults with money management skills.
Eighth grade math teacher Tracey McCormack, who was there last Thursday with 110 students, tells us the pre-Finance Park curriculum includes lessons in budgeting, salaries and taxes, the stock market, and identifying investment risks. The Buck Lodge Middle School teacher says she’s surprised by how much the kids already know about their family’s household expenses. What they don’t understand is retirement and saving up for something so far into the future. JA has 30 Finance Parks built or in progress throughout the country.