Home » OPINION » Columns » SELENA SWARTZFAGER — Red Panther Champions, Indeed!
L to R: Larry Lewis, Coahoma Jr. High teacher and MCEE Board Member; Jaylin Jones, Christopher Murphy, Tyree Blackshire, Amarian Phillips and Selena Swartzfager, MCEE president

SELENA SWARTZFAGER — Red Panther Champions, Indeed!


During the summer of 2014 I met Larry Lewis.  Larry is a teacher at Coahoma Jr. High in Clarksdale, MS and I came to know him through professional development the MS Council on Economic Education was offering through the College Knowledge Project.  Larry was different in that he had a 25 year career in the United States Navy before becoming a teacher.  He quickly learned about Financial Fitness for Life, the International Economic Summit and Reality Fairs during his week with us in 2014.  When the 2014/2015 school year started, he began implementation of what he learned about personal finance and how it can encourage post-secondary education for students.  He brought a team of girls to the 2015 state Finance Challenge and changed their lives by exposing them to an academic competition that gave them the opportunity to flex their intellectual muscles.  I was proud of Mr. Lewis and his commitment to the education of the students in Clarksdale as it related to financial education.  I work every day on a mission and belief that financial literacy education can be an important part of creating a prosperous Mississippi.  Teachers that embrace this mission and belief are the most powerful tool we have against poverty and financial illiteracy.

The summer of 2015 our paths crossed again.  Once again Mr. Lewis fully engaged in the professional development we were offering, picking up additional resources for use in his classroom.  Fast forward to spring 2016.  In March 2016 we had a total of 1,525 middle school students in Mississippi that competed in the online Finance Challenge during the school year.  One team of four students that called themselves the “Red Panther Champions” were among the top scoring teams in the online Finance Challenge earning an invitation to the state Finance Challenge.  The name they gave their team was almost as if they knew there were good things to come.  Champions!

In April 2016 a group of four young men took a journey from the MS Delta to the state capitol to see if they could indeed become champions.  The room at Millsaps College was abuzz with the excitement of 80+ middle schools students from across the state.  The “Red Panther Champions” were dressed for success in white button up shirts and ties.  They caught the attention of Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch who stopped to chat with them as she visited with the students that morning.  The practice of financial literacy skills began and when the dust settled around noon, the “Red Panther Champions” had the highest score in the room.  They outscored the teams of students from Gifted Education classrooms.  They outscored teams of students from the affluent schools in the metro Jackson area. They advanced to the quiz bowl round of the competition.  During the quiz bowl round they shined and in the end they were indeed champions!  Each student earned a $750 college scholarship which we are holding for them until they are ready for college and yes they are earning interest in MACS accounts held by the Office of the State Treasurer.

Flash forward to the summer of 2016 where Mr. Lewis once again attended professional development offered by MCEE.  He talked to me about the importance of financial literacy education and what a difference it could make in depressed counties in the Mississippi Delta.  I immediately thought that I had to have him and his “Red Panther Champions” as part of the annual Forum on American Enterprise where we showcase our successes each year.  If you were with us for that event, you will certainly remember them.  Walking through the grocery store a couple days after the Forum I was stopped by someone that had been at the luncheon to tell me that Mr. Lewis and the Champions were certainly the best part of the program.  Since then Mr. Lewis has been voted as a member of the MCEE Board of Directors where he can be a voice for the teachers we serve.  Coahoma Jr. High was recognized this past week as a Banner School in Financial Readiness by MCEE and the MS Department of Education.

So many more good things are to come because of Mr. Lewis.  I am thankful for the day our paths first crossed and for him.  I am looking forward to watching our Champions move into high school, achieve more success and go on to college because they understand what a difference it will make to their ability to live successful lives.  Providing the opportunities for young Mississippians to become champions makes my heart happy.  Poverty is a scourge for Mississippi and I for one will do everything within my power to defeat what it does to our young people.  One step at a time, moving forward and the efforts of teachers like Mr. Lewis is how we will do this.

Organizations interested in supporting the 2017 Finance Challenge are encouraged to contact me at mscee@millsaps.edu or by calling 601-974-1325.  Your investment in the youth of Mississippi will make allow our students to create a more prosperous future for themselves and Mississippi.

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


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