Local banks and schools partner to teach kids financial responsibility

When the Ohio Senate Bill 311 took effect in July 2010, it mandated the integration of economics and financial literacy into the curriculum for all ninth grade students beginning school that year, and required completion of a financial literacy component for graduation. The bill anticipated findings released in a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in November 2011, which ranks Ohio in the bottom 15 states for financial literacy and financial  behavior—it rated 42nd overall, scoring 61.3 percent on “individuals’ ability to understand finance (both the concepts and the arithmetic) in order to make intelligent financial decisions.” 
 
This wasn’t news to Cincinnati area banks, though, all of which had student financial literacy programs in place prior to Senate Bill 311. Fifth Third Bank, PNC Bank and U.S. Bank equip teachers with information and classroom materials, as well as bank volunteers to do class visits and presentations. These programs are designed to instill good saving and spending habits that students will carry with them through college and into their careers. Savvy money managers have a better chance of reaching personal financial success, and also wind up being better banking customers in the long run. 
 
Introducing Money Management
One of the longest running children’s financial literacy programs is national Teach Children To Save day. Started in 1997 by the American Bankers Association Education Foundation, it’s an annual event held in April that brings bank volunteers into K-12 classrooms to teach the importance of saving and money management. U.S. Bank has partnered with the ABA Education Foundation since the program’s inception, and brought TCTS Day to Cincinnati classrooms for its 17th year in 2013. This year, 65 U.S. Bank employees met with more than 1,000 students among four schools, and taught 40 lessons.
 
“It’s an opportunity to connect with students and provide understanding on basic financial matters,” says Alicia Townsend, Vice President Community Affairs Manager, U.S. Bank. “There is not really anywhere in the public school system where kids are taught these things.”
 
U.S. Bank branches partner with schools and work with them to build relationships. On TCTS Day, volunteers typically go to schools where there is a bank relationship as well as a need. They also tend to focus on Title 1 schools—those in which more than half of the students qualify for free or reduced cost lunches.  
 
“It really is those schools and students most at risk,” Townsend says.
 
The program material and content are robust enough to engage students from elementary through high school. Lessons are designed to fit within a normal class period, usually integrated into social studies or math classes. The intent is for bankers to get students learning through games and exercises that are fun, creative and productive. 
 
This year, U.S. Bank volunteers presented kindergartners with “Being Green, Saving Green,” a lesson about saving responsibly. Third graders created and “grew” a financial decision tree, adding branches with “good decision” leaves. Sixth and seventh graders discussed goal-setting, both educational and financial, in a lesson titled “Make A wish, Get Your Goal.” 
 
“So often we get 20-year-olds coming into the bank with no knowledge of how to use even a check book,” Townsend says. “It’s important to teach early, especially about saving and managing money. Those skills follow young people throughout their lives.”
 
Financial Proficiency for the Future
Financial literacy outreach for children has also been a longtime mission at Fifth Third Bank. Fifth Third began sending volunteers for Teach Children To Save Day in 2012, focusing primarily on eighth grade classrooms in the 150 schools throughout their 12 state footprint. Their longer standing outreach program, however, is the Young Bankers Club (YBC), a financial education curriculum for fifth-graders. 
 
“Financial literacy has always been the cornerstone of our community outreach,” says Jeff Kursman, Fifth Third Bank Cincinnati’s Vice President of Public Relations. 
 
Since its inception in 2004, YBC has graduated more than 10,000 students. The volunteer-driven program teaches the fundamentals about what money is, how it's earned and how it's used. This year, YBC partnered with 14 elementary schools among Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Dayton, with about 100 volunteers from the bank working in a 1-to-5 ratio as mentors for students. Mentors are responsible for teaching the curriculum and providing leadership, guidance and friendship throughout the course.
 
Fifth Third upgraded the curriculum in 2012 to meet national and state standards in mathematics and social studies. The curriculum is taught once a week for 10 weeks during the school day. Lessons include dynamic activities, such as video game challenges, to reach kids at their grade level and engage their interests. Throughout the course, students are led to explore various careers, earning potentials, budget-creation and the basics of the stock market and entrepreneurship.
 
“Financial literacy is like learning a language or how to ride a bike—learning early helps you never to forget,” Kursman says.
 
For 11th and 12th graders, Fifth Third partnered with financial expert and author Dave Ramsey in 2010 to underwrite use of his Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum in classrooms. Forty percent of high schools in Ohio now offer the program, which teaches general money management and personal finance. Nationally, the program reaches more than 1,800 schools and meets financial literacy standards in all 50 states, as well as national standards suggested by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. 
 
“The course allows individuals to have a stronger foundation of tools and knowledge that will ultimately serve them well as a consumer, a borrower, an employee, an employer or general member of adult society,” Kursman says.
 
Foundations in Personal Finance comprises 12 lessons, which teachers can incorporate into classes at their own pace, working in material where it has the best synergy with other math or social studies topics. Teachers are equipped with curriculum structure and information, student workbooks and videos in which Ramsey himself explains key concepts related to each lesson topic. 
 
Fifth Third complements the Dave Ramsey material with Financial Empowerment Days, in which bank representatives visit classrooms to give real-life examples of how banking and money management work. Presentations tend to focus on issues that are most likely to confront and confuse young people, such as behind-the-scenes transaction mechanics of debit and credit cards, smart spending and the realities of earning. 
 
“A lot of kids don’t have a clear feel for the power of money or how far it goes,” Kursman says. “Say someone works 40 hours at $20 per hour. Will they have a check for $800 at the end of the week?  Suddenly there’s that rude awaking. What we’re trying to do is supplement that with the real-world experience so they’ll all be better off.”
 
Saving Starts Early
It’s not just elementary and high school students getting banks’ attention, though. As part of its Grow Up Great early childhood education initiative, PNC partnered with Sesame Workshop to begin financial literacy education for preschoolers. The Early Childhood Financial Literacy Initiative uses the “For Me, for You, for Later: First Steps to Spending, Sharing and Saving,” financial literacy material created specifically for PNC by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street.  PNC underwrites the program both in preschools and as a series of classes held in public libraries.
 
For the past two years, United Way Success by 6 and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have worked together with various school partners to put the PNC program to use at local libraries.

“Having families understand money management issues isn’t something that has to be reserved for when the children are older. Understanding the value of managing money begins in the earliest of years,” says Stephanie Byrd, executive director of Success by 6—a strategic initiative focused on kindergarten readiness.

The PNC Financial Education Series for Children came to a close two weeks ago, as parents and children joined together for a culminating event, featuring story time, crafts, activities and financial tips and advice. Participants made their own piggy banks, and used fake money to purchase a variety of items like fruit and vegetables from a market. 

“Much of it was how to take the money you have earned and, knowing the value of it and the value of an item, decide what you’re going to buy,” Byrd says.

The program reached nearly 3,000 children and 300 parents throughout the past couple years, and though it has now ended, the library will continue to use Sharing, Saving and Spending materials during reading sessions to reach even more children.

“It’s given our partners a new tool set to use to engage families around something very practical,” Byrd says. “The idea is to have children and parents working together to understand basic concepts that help the family become more self-sufficient and effective in managing household budgets.”
 
In preschools, children use similar activities to simulate money management. They use symbolic money and divide it among personal purchases, shared classroom necessities like crayons or chalk, and pooled community resources. 
 
“It’s a way to show the meaningful, measurable difference in how your dollars are spent and getting the results you want to achieve,” says Terri Wilson, spokesperson for PNC Bank.
 
In order to continue engagement with financial literacy concepts, PNC also sponsors model banks in elementary schools. The banks are typically run by math teachers and incorporated into the classroom. Students take turns filling positions like bank president, teller and loan officer. Other students can invest money in the bank, open checking accounts, borrow money and make payments against loans. 
 
PNC provides all the material for the model banks, and periodically sends volunteers to teach about money management, the importance of saving and how banks operate. Their goal is to demonstrate how financial decisions play out in real life, with an emphasis on the long-term benefits of saving. Lessons such as these give students an opportunity to engage with math, social studies and science in a real-world context. 
 
“It’s very important to make sure our little children are educated and ready to go on to school,” Wilson says. “Early childhood education prepares them to continue on successfully to elementary school, high school, college and, ultimately, to be employees and citizens.”
 
Making the Grade
Ohio Senate Bill 311 defines financial literacy as “the ability to read, analyze, manage and communicate about the personal financial conditions that affect material well-being. It includes the ability to discern financial choices, discuss money and financial issues without (or despite) discomfort, plan for the future, and respond competently to life events that affect everyday financial decisions, including events in the general economy.”
 
Content of the new and updated bank outreach curriculums reflect the law’s seven principal components, which focus heavily on effective decision-making and planning, as well as the teaching of general financial information. The goal, then, is not just to have a generation of students who know the facts, but who have also been prepared from the earliest ages to use academic skills to make smart long-term decisions. 
 
“If we have better prepared students in school, it saves society on social services down the road,” Wilson says. “Children with early education in math and science create a better pool of employees for our workforce, which helps us compete better in the global environment.”
 
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