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Della Archie, ARM JSU Regional Coordinator, provided instruction to over 20 AmeriCorps MS members at Jackson State University, who then used their newfound knowledge to tutor elementary school students on their reading skills.

Financial literacy and the third grade reading gate

SELENA SWARTZFAGER

SELENA SWARTZFAGER

During the 2014/2015 school year, the Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE) partnered with America Reads – Mississippi (ARM) to deliver a program called Never Too Young: Personal Finance for Young Learners (NTY) to elementary school students in Mississippi.   This partnership arose from a networking event where I met Ronjanett Taylor, State Program Director of ARM and funding received by MCEE from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to use lessons in financial literacy to teach reading.  This partnership was an example of true collaboration and the staff with ARM were fabulous team members.

ARM is a national service AmeriCorps program that addresses the issue area of education.  ARM AmeriCorps members strive daily to achieve the mission and meet the Program Performance Measures of America Reads – Mississippi by tutoring primarily K – 3rd grade students in reading during the school day and in some afterschool programs.   The ARM state staff is a part of the Office of Academic and Student Affairs at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.  It is the largest AmeriCorps program in Mississippi and is in the operation of its 15th program year.

The NTY curriculum was developed by the Council for Economic Education (CEE) with funding from the ING DIRECT Kids Foundation and was created as an after school program for elementary school students in personal finance and economics.  While it was created for after school programs, it also works well during the school day.

With the third grade reading gate in Mississippi, it is important that educators think outside the box on encouraging students to not only read, but enjoy reading.  In the NTY program students can learn how to appreciate and manage money while reading short stories titled, “Nicholas has Many Wants” and “Penny’s New Business.”  The students learn to read and then sing a song titled “I’ve Got Money” to the tune of “Are You Sleeping, Brother John.”  For a video of this you can visit the MCEE website

According to CEE, “NTY was developed in response to a growing interest in teaching students about personal finance through settings outside of the traditional school day. While there is no lack of material for teaching personal finance, there are few approaches that take into account the particular features of an after‐school setting—for example, the broader range in age and ability of students participating in an after‐school group; that the group may meet in a location that is not set up like a standard classroom; more sporadic participant attendance; and, perhaps most importantly, a lack of trained educators prepared to teach personal finance in this setting. This program responds to these gaps.

The program teaches young students about financial choices, cost‐benefit analysis for purchases, the role of an entrepreneur, and the economics and finances of their individual communities—all with a goal of helping children understand that saving is a good thing for us as individuals and as a nation.

The lessons focus on topics including scarcity, choice, opportunity cost, decision making, saving, spending, earning income, budgeting, taxes, and entrepreneurship. They are drawn from a range of sources, including CEE’s financial education series Financial Fitness for Life. All lessons have been modified from their original sources to better align to an after‐school setting. All lessons are hands‐on, keeping the students actively engaged with the content. One key feature is ECONObucks, which reward students for participating, being good citizens and correctly answering questions. During the lessons and at the conclusion of the program, students are provided with the opportunity to redeem their ECONObucks for prizes.

ECONObucks both increase student participation and teach important money skills.

The program is designed to be taught by after‐school service providers, with support from content experts. The service providers are connected to seasoned economic educators, who train providers on both the content and delivery, and then provide follow‐up support during initial implementation to ensure that service providers are comfortable with teaching the lessons.”

In January of 2015, MCEE provided the content expert that trained the ARM staff who then provided training to their AmeriCorps Members working in the America Reads schools.  I had the pleasure of attending a portion of the training that took place at Jackson State University.  Once trained, the members took their kits of materials back to the schools which they serve and began using financial literacy lessons to improve student reading skills.  The schools served by this program were Eva Gordon Elementary, Okolona Elementary, Fair Elementary, South Pontotoc Elementary, and Jefferson Lower Elementary.  A total of 220 elementary school students received this instruction that increased their financial literacy test scores from an average score of 18 to an average score of 84 (increase of 66 points, or 372 percent).  Because of these outstanding results, MCEE received funding once again from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to work with a group of 15 teachers in the Jackson area during the 2015/2016 school.

This program has also been taught with significant success at Operation Shoestring, Metro Jackson YMCAs and Starkville area Boys and Girls Clubs.

The NTY manual is accessible free of charge on the MCEE website (www.mscee.org).  Educators and after-school providers may contact MCEE at 601-974-1325 or mscee@millsaps.edu to ask about support from content experts to properly implement the program in other Mississippi schools and after-school programs.

» Selena Swartzfager is president of the Mississippi Council for Economic Education. She can be reached at swartsc@millsaps.edu.

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