By: Michael Rathjen, Vice President, High School Program, VyStar Credit Union
As parents/guardians, we focus on keeping our children safe, healthy and happy. We want them to have the best education in subjects like math, science and English. However, basic financial concepts are sometimes overlooked.
Even when children graduate with a great education, they can quickly derail without proper financial skills. A well-rounded education must include knowledge of budgets, savings and other important financial indicators, like credit scores and debt-to-income ratios. Without this education, students are more likely to enter adulthood without the tools necessary to successfully navigate our complex financial system.
When it comes to finances, we must prepare our children early. Debt accumulated early in life can follow young adults for years and impact their ability to buy a car or home, or provide for their families.
Students are more likely to stay out of debt when they are taught the importance of saving and planning. It’s never too soon to start teaching children about financial matters and demonstrating sound financial practices. This idea is supported by initiatives like the Florida Senate Bill 114 (or Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Act), which, if passed, would require Florida students to take a personal financial literacy course.
With the founding of the VyStar Academy of Business and Finance in 2007, we began an effort to help school districts deliver financial education to students. Since then, we’ve partnered with six school districts throughout Central and Northeast Florida to open 14 high school credit union branches, with two more planned for 2019. Over the years, we’ve delivered financial education to more than 43,600 students through our High School Credit Union Branch Program and “On My Own” Reality Fairs.
Each of VyStar’s 14 current high school branches is run by 12 Student Manager Interns and is open during school lunch hours to serve students, faculty and staff. The interns are VyStar employees who receive nine weeks of paid instructional and on-the-job training the summer before their internships begin. They also teach fellow students the financial skills they’ve acquired.
In the last 12 years, VyStar has provided 960 students with internship opportunities. During the 2017/18 school year, more than 4,000 students were taught financial literacy lessons by Student Manager Interns. All students can use branch hours to talk to an intern and/or manage their accounts.
When the Florida Department of Education created 26 new personal finance standards as part of the state’s overall curriculum requirements in 2013, VyStar was ready to serve with our “On My Own” Reality Fairs. This hands-on simulation program allows teens to experience their futures in a tangible way, helping them emotionally connect to otherwise technical content.
The Reality Fairs address 22 of the 26 standards. With so many standards for educators to teach in the classroom, making it difficult to dive deep into personal finance, our reality fairs are a robust tool to help supplement and solidify what students learn in school. Approximately 28,557 students have participated in an “On My Own” Reality Fair.
At the fairs, each student assumes they are 25 years old and the primary/sole supporter of their household. After being assigned a family scenario, credit score, occupation and monthly gross income, each participant learns how to manage their budget.
In the simulation, they make spending choices for expenses like housing, groceries, utilities, transportation and more. The student then “pays” with a check or imaginary debit card and subtracts the amount from their monthly budget. Each student is also challenged with unexpected expenses, allowing them to learn how life decisions and creative solutions impact their finances.
Learning how to handle money is a matter of “when”—not “if.” At VyStar, we are committed to working with Florida educators to reach today’s students with critical financial education. When we help our kids prepare for the future, we help them avoid repairing past mistakes in adulthood. For more information about the VyStar Academy of Business and Finance, please visit our High School Credit Union Branch Program page.
The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.