Financial Literacy in the Classroom

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     Throughout the school year, students learn skills that help them prepare for the future and achieve academic and professional success. Some of those lessons include financial literacy, such as money management, budgeting, and the avoidance of debt. 

     Gonzalo Rodriguez teaches reading and writing to PSJA seventh-graders at Audie Murphy Middle School. Originally from Laredo, he is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is also an alumnus of Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that helps put top college graduates and outstanding and diverse leaders in teaching positions in many communities. The goal is to improve student outcomes, bridge the inequality gap for low-income students, and help support their academic and personal growth, according to the organization’s website. Frost Bank has a partnership and is a supporter of Teach for America, and for five years has been bringing financial literacy initiatives to Rodriguez’s class. For several years, the bank had a representative from San Antonio, but they now have a community liaison here in the Rio Grande Valley to provide the lessons. 

     The students learn basic financial skills, such as how to open a bank account, the difference between checking and savings accounts, what a credit card is, and how to avoid credit card debt. Rodriguez feels that at the age level of his students, it is important that they begin learning about finances to prepare them for when they enter the workforce — and it will help them to manage their earnings responsibly. These are skills they can build upon as they progress in school.  

      Rodriguez described one lesson that Frost Bank provides where the students make a budget using items such as color-coded paper strips and materials that represent money. In another, students experience various scenarios related to money management and are allowed to choose their own adventure, making the lessons more interactive, heightening the level of engagement, and helping keep their attention and focus. Rodriguez feels that students are becoming more financially aware today as compared to when he was their age. Some students are familiar, for example, with purchasing items online, the use of credit cards, and the nuances of accounts. He adds he is left in awe when a presenter from the bank will pose a question to students and they will immediately have an answer. 

     One of the initiatives at PSJA is 21st Century Learning, which includes skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. The program also promotes literacy in areas such as technology and media, as well as in life skills, including leadership, productivity, and initiative, according to its website. These skills will help students reach their long-term goals. The activities provided by Frost Bank, which occur once during the school year, are valuable in that they benefit all of his students, especially those who do not have easy access to financial and money management resources. Rodriguez says that one of the most important things they stress during the lessons is “paying yourself first,” which is a planning philosophy and strategy that encourages students to save a portion of their salary every month. The lessons provide a solid foundation and basic understanding of personal money management. He also feels that parents can help their children learn about finances at an early age, showing them how to budget and handle money responsibly even before they earn their first paycheck. The earlier they are exposed to the concepts of finance and savings, the better foundation they will have. 

Aimee Ashby