As some of you might know, we have created a matched savings program for young people who are aging out of the foster care system. Two years were spent planning and developing the program. We’ve been talking with people in the community about the program and about the need for opportunities for these young people to not only earn money, but to learn how to manage their money. Financial literacy develops the knowledge and skills needed to make deliberate and effective financial decisions. According to the Jump$tart Coalition’s 2008 study of high school seniors and college students, financial literacy for high schoolers has fallen to its lowest levels.
When volunteers and experts from the community began planning the program, there was a question about working in the public schools in the Triangle. At the time, it seemed like too big a target to create an impact. We wanted to start with a smaller population and have some success before we took whatever program we created to a larger scale. Eventually, we agreed that working with young people aging out of foster care is a finite number of at-risk youth that we can help and we can evaluate the program effectiveness quickly.
Yet, people who we are talking with about this program are still asking, “What is going on with the schools?” Aren’t we teaching financial literacy in the schools? Well, I’ve done some poking around and here is the answer; yes and no. Interestingly enough, financial literacy is a module to be taught in social studies in the North Carolina K-12 curriculum. So, yes, it is in the curriculum.
Unfortunately, there are some barriers to the actual implementation of those financial literacy modules in social studies class. First and foremost, it is very principal and teacher dependent. It really is up to the individuals in the schools to teach the skills of financial management. Financial literacy is not a part of end of grade testing. So there is little motivation to focus on the skills needed for managing money when compared to those things students are tested on. There is also no consistent teacher training of financial literacy. In other words, teachers are kind of on their own when it comes to searching for the curriculum and implementing it in their social studies classrooms. Finally, we are living in a community that is valuing and promoting science, technology, enginerring and math (STEM). While math skills are essential in financial management, the context and practice of going to the bank, using a check register, making deposits, evaluating savings interest rates, and understanding credit interest rates may not find their way into the math curriculum.
So for now, we will continue to experiment with this small group of young people. Once we see how success is created, then we will tackle the bigger systems.