Financial literacy: it’s something even older adults can struggle with. Credit, taxes, how money moves through a community, domestic and foreign trade. But at Talbot Hill Elementary School, bolstered by it’s third annual Junior Achievement Day on Nov. 6, elementary school students are able to pick up these concepts and carry them for the rest of their lives.
Junior Achievement of Washington is a nonprofit organization that provides education, tools and resources to a younger generation on financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Employees of Wells Fargo partnered with the program to teach classes at schools across the state, with 38 employees volunteering to teach in 19 of the 20 classrooms at Talbot Hill.
Cascade Region Bank President David Larkin was one of the volunteers teaching at Junior Achievement Day, and a board member for Junior Achievement. He said Talbot Hill was one of the most engaged situations he’s seen for the program.
“You could see that just the entire school was fully supportive and committed to having us there with the kids,” Larkin said.
The support from the school has to do with how well it lines up with their current programs. Talbot Hill has a microsociety, 45 minutes at the end of the school day where the students create a full-functioning society, with jobs, business plans, voting and an elected functioning government. The program helps students learn about how their school skills are utilized in the real world and helps children see they have a voice and a choice, Talbot Hill’s microsociety coordinator Sally Boni said. She has been coordinator since 2006, and has seen the fad of microsocieties begin to dwindle across the nation, but Talbot Hill’s program continues as the only elementary school microsociety program in Washington state.
Both Larkin and Boni said the day was timed perfectly to set up students for the remainder of the school year.
“It’s a perfect fit for us because we are economic based, which Junior Achievement is, and we’re about the community, business and all the different kinds of jobs. So really our focus is on financial literacy, economic and civics. It’s the perfect match,” Boni said. “I think it’s a good learning experience because it’s people from the real world, bankers, coming in and teaching it. The students were also in their own classrooms— in microsociety there’s not a lot of guided instruction like that, so it gives them an opportunity to put it all together early.”
Larkin has worked with Wells Fargo for 18 years, and said he realized from working with young clients there was an opportunity to provide more financial literacy to children to offer them a better headstart.
Only one-third of U.S. states require students to graduate having taken a personal finance class, and a 2018 Survey of the States by the Council for Economic Education showed no additional states added personal finance to their standards since 2016. Washington state doesn’t require personal finance.
In 2017, Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy graded all 50 states and Washington D.C. on “their efforts to produce financially literate high school graduates.”
Washington state received a C grade. Only five states received an A. The center said in it’s grading explanation that Washington providing access to financial instruction is similar to an elective, which earned it a C. Unlike an elective, Washington doesn’t specify a number of instruction hours or how it will monitor and measure student achievement in financial literacy.
Larkin started to look for ways to make a bigger difference in financial literacy and found Junior Achievement.
“Once I had the opportunity to go in and teach some classes, I guess you could say I got hooked,” Larkin said.
Junior Achievement creates curriculums for each grade level through 12th grade, as well as their Junior Achievement World campus in Auburn that creates a full-day real life scenario, not unlike Talbot Hill’s microsociety.
Larkin teaches three to four elementary school classrooms each year. He said they look for opportunities with schools who have a mutual belief the program can add value to their student’s education.
The Junior Achievement curriculum starts with basic fundamentals for elementary school students and then expands on them. Needs vs. wants, community, jobs, private sector vs. government and quite a few more are taught at the elementary school level that make it cool, Larkin said, to see those concepts connect with students and their everyday lives.
At Talbot Hill, Larkin taught a second grade class. The main concept was “Our Community,” which focused on supporting each other in communities, different types of jobs including what skills and education they require. Then they went into a fake donut bakery lesson where the students had to make sure it was made with quality so you could “sell” them. They talked about moving money through a community and voting.
Larkin said one of the things he really appreciates is seeing children eager to learn the concepts. Junior Achievement’s curriculum balances educating with activities, making it fun.
Boni said one of the highlights of Junior Achievement Day is having game-like activities they don’t have everyday. She described one class where they played a board game and students had to figure out if an activity on a card was spend, donate, save or earn. Seeing the kids understand the math they did, the interpreting or scenarios and the fun of the game all provided a unique experience for the students, she said.
With those Talbot Hill second graders, Larkin said he saw an advanced level of knowledge going through the concepts they were teaching. Even as they were introducing different ideas, they saw the kids recognize and understand them.
“It’s cool he said that, because our students really do get what we’re doing,” Boni said. “If you talk to our students once they’ve graduated college or are out in the real world, they will say ‘Microsociety was the thing that really mattered in my school.’”
Some Junior Achievement data shows when you get kids excited about financial literacy, it has an impact on their financial future and gets them excited about the future, leading to graduation success, Larkin said.
“We believe when we start these conversations early, we can truly help Washington’s kids have a healthy financial future,” Larkin said. “The better job we can do having a larger percentage of the population truly financially sound has a positive benefit overall to our economy.”