Financial Literacy Firsthand by Jeannine Cotner “ O
h no! I thought this was a good income! How am I going to pay for everything after all these taxes are deducted?” lamented Jordan, a radio reporter, married with two children,
making $50,000 annually. At least, that is who Jordan is this morning. At 2:30 p.m. he will return to his usual existence as an eighth grader in Fairfax County, Virginia. Jordan recently participated in a daylong, nonstop field trip to Finance Park, a joint partner-
ship with Fairfax County Public Schools, Capital One, and the non-profit organization Junior Achievement. Finance Park, a 20,000-square-foot interactive facility, was built solely for students to apply newly acquired personal finance skills to a high-tech adult budgeting simu- lation. Students developed these skills over several weeks in an interdisciplinary unit in their civics and math classes. The primary goal of the Finance Park experience is to inculcate stu- dents with lifelong practices resulting in intelligent, responsible, personal financial decisions. Additional corporate sponsors support the colorful, tech-supported storefronts throughout
the Finance Park complex. Sponsoring corporations include the areas of finance, entertain- ment, health care, grocery, utilities, furniture, home improvement, travel, and other industries. Each storefront represents one or more major financial decisions that most middle-class adults typically make in their lives. These areas are explored in greater depth in the newly required Virginia High School courses: Economics and Personal Finance. At this point, introducing and exposing the students to at least some of the options are the program’s priorities. As students travel throughout the mall-like environment, they must complete a personal-
ized financial plan complete with a detailed budget spreadsheet. Some of the tasks they must accomplish include: devising an investment plan; handling banking and credit transactions; analyzing insurance choices; and planning for housing, transportation, and leisure expenses. Throughout the process, they are developing and refining their consumer skills. Today’s teens are not only making their own purchasing decisions, they also have incredible influence over their parents’ spending decisions. Equipping students with these financial tools and strategies will hopefully lead them to making more informed financial decisions in their lives.
Jordan began the day at Finance Park receiving his life situation card.
Collaboration Is Key
Each year, 13,000 Fairfax County middle school students, 1400 volunteers and 450 teachers travel to Finance Park to participate in the problem-solving, critical thinking simulation. This is no simple feat. Collaboration is key between school district and sponsors, between school district and individual schools, and within the schools themselves. Every week of the school year, school buses deliver 500 to 750 middle school students to Finance Park. Volunteers are a critical element to the program’s success. The ideal ratio of adult to stu-
dents is about one to six. This is not the ordinary field trip chaperone duty. All volunteers must go through an intensive training session prior to the arrival of the students. Thus, parents are solicited at the start of the school year, at school functions, and via school correspondence. Local corporations and community organizations also regularly volunteer, resulting in a broad spectrum of skills, knowledge, and personal experiences to assist the students in making their financial decisions.
Jordan Opens His Account
Jordan began the day at Finance Park receiving his life situation card. The card, selected at random, provided Jordan with his marital status, occupation, annual salary, miles traveled
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