News & Press: Credit Union News

Bloomington and Richfield students get life lessons in personal finance

Friday, April 15, 2016  
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The Sun Current © April 15, 2016 – Whether it’s looking for summer jobs or solidifying college plans, money is on high school students’ minds this time of year.

Educators, meanwhile, are working to make sure their students are thinking about money in the proper context – not simply something to spend, but something to save and manage. While her school was already teaching personal finance as part of the business program, Richfield High School teacher Courtnee Floback noticed some anxiety in her classes last year.

Floback was teaching students in a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination, commonly known as AVID, which sought to aid students who might otherwise fall through the cracks in the educational system.

As AVID students’ minds turned to college plans, Floback noticed their growing anxiety. They wondered, she said, how they would fill out a complicated FAFSA financial aid form when they didn’t even know how to write a check.

Personal finance is “just not on the radar for a lot of families until their junior, senior year situation comes up,” Floback said, “and then it’s just kind of this big bag of, ‘What do we do, what do we do?’”

So Floback broke out the workbooks and the sample checks to help allay those concerns, but she was looking for a better way to hook the students on a positive monetary mentality. That’s when she reached out to Richfield Bloomington Credit Union for help.

RBCU made an online program available to Floback’s student’s – and everyone, for that matter – consisting of games and tools to provide a crash course in personal finance. For providing the resource, available at (link shortened), the program won a “Diamond Award” from the Credit Union National Association last month. The award has garnered enough attention that state policymakers have reached out to RBCU to discuss the program, said Toni Gerard, community and business development manager for RBCU.

But the inspiration came from Richfield.

“(Floback is) basically the one that started this whole thing because she was responding to the needs of students,” Gerard said.

Since last school year, Gerard has visited Richfield High School, Bloomington Kennedy High School and alternative programs for both districts, outlining students on the basics of the essential life skill of financial literacy. The five-week unit led by Gerard starts out with a student survey on their knowledge base and thoughts on their financial future.

“What we got from Richfield was, ‘I’m feeling really anxious, and I need somebody to talk to,” she said of her visits last year.

One area of misunderstanding was borrowing, and a belief that minimum monthly payments suffice to pay back a loan. To counter that mindset, Gerard warned students of the “balloon debt” that can result.

She has plenty more warnings. Never go to a check cashing service or title lender, “and never, never interest-only borrowing,” Gerard said, referring to the kind of gap financing best left to those who have attained a certain level of financial savvy.

Gerard fights what she calls the “swipe and go” mentality engendered by credit and debit cards that has replaced the act of balancing a checkbook. Text alerts from financial institutions like RBCU can help people keep tabs on their money, Gerard notes. She said her own teenage son gets such updates every Friday.

“And it’s not a mistake that it comes on a Friday,” she said.

Teachers call for greater emphasis

Bloomington Kennedy High School teacher Dan Gasner has taught personal finance in his business classes for 22 years. Those classes are not mandatory. “But I think they should be,” Gasner said.

One of his students, senior Paola Popoca, said the topic is at least on the mind of her peers, but that they could use some direction.

“I think it’s a topic a lot of us think about but don’t really know how to manage, I guess,” Popoca said.

In helping address that condition, Floback is being honored at RBCU’s May 25 annual meeting with the credit union’s 2016 “Hero Award” for her financial literacy work.

“Financial literacy is on everyone’s minds, and there is no disagreement about its importance,” Gerard wrote in an explanation of the honor. “Finding the right time and format is the dilemma.”

In Gasner’s class, students’ knowledge on personal finance varies wildly to start out. Saving might be a foreign concept to some, while others, like Bloomington Kennedy senior Eli Preble, start filling their piggy banks early.

“It was really back when I was just a little kid,” Preble said of his initial life lessons in personal finance. “My parents kind of told me hey, now that you’re growing up you need to start learning about financial planning and what not.”

His friends might learn from him.

“For me it’s one of those things where my friends say, wow, how do you have so much money?” Preble said.

Students might go into Gasner’s finance class not knowing what to expect, “but when they walk out it’s mind-blowing,” Preble observed.

Gasner said his unit on stocks generates the most excitement in the classroom, but that the number one lesson to learn is the “self-discipline of not touching that money.”

At least one students is listening.

“For me,” Preble said, “I don’t spend anything unless it’s a necessity.”

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