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Elementary Students Need Financial Education
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A Day in Young Ameritowne: Economics in One Exciting Field Trip

By Monica Fuglei March 4, 2014

For the past month, my fifth-grade daughter has chattered incessantly about her upcoming field trip. “We get to elect a mayor!” she shrieked one day. She pored over a booklet that covered skills such as filling out a job application and balancing a checkbook. Two weeks ago, she went to school prepared for her very first job interview dressed in a black blazer, white button-down shirt, and a black skirt. Last week she learned she’d earned the job of mail carrier. One Friday morning, we visited Young Ameritowne to see what the fuss was about.

Educating elementary students about finances and free enterprise

The Young Americans Center for Financial Education is located in Denver, Colorado and houses Young Ameritowne, International Towne, and the Young Americans Bank, the only FDIC-insured bank designed specifically for young people. The non-profit center believes that it is “never too early to teach children about money,” and provides hands-on experiences to help students learn “life skills, work skills, and financial self-sufficiency.” Through field trips, summer camps, and other classes, the Young Americans Center teaches children about a variety of topics from basic banking to entrepreneurial skills and small business concerns.

Kid-sized town provides hands-on experience in life and work skills

On their field trip, my daughter’s class was challenged to run an entire town for a day. They spent about a month preparing for their field trip to Young Ameritowne, learning skills children their age are not often taught. These included an introduction to checking accounts and extensive discussions about civic duty and voting. Students opened checking accounts and learned to write checks. They elected a mayor and town judge. They even went through the job interview process.

Once at Ameritowne, each student got a crash course on his or her job and the technology associated with it; then their day began. When we stopped by, my daughter, dressed in a UPS uniform, was delivering paychecks, bill payments, and goods that had been ordered online. The volunteer in the Parcel Service explained that orders for every business were completed through a website, then completely fulfilled from payment through shipping and delivery.

Students on breaks stopped in to the local soda shop where they could order sodas (no refills!) and cookies (sold out by 11 a.m.). Based on the jobs they’d earned, class members had differently-timed breaks, different paychecks, and different duties. It seemed a like a recipe for total chaos, yet students were working hard at their jobs and completing their tasks as best they could. At the end of the day, students were encouraged to donate their leftover money to charities of their choice.

More than playing pretend: financial literacy for fifth-graders

At first glance, I thought their field trip would result in a one-day break from school to mess around and play pretend, but my daughter came home with three significant new skills:

Financial knowledge

The process of earning a wage and using it to buy goods and services resulted in my rather disorganized girl learning some key pointers about keeping a checkbook register, balancing her account, and budgeting her money. Young Ameritowne volunteers and teachers were clear:  financial records were essential. My daughter explained that there would be follow-up time during which she could fix her errors.

A lesson in economics

By 11 a.m., the town’s snack shop had run out of chocolate chip cookies and the Postal Service was dangerously low on chocolate.  Students learned great lessons about the laws of supply and demand and the importance of individual businesses balancing their goods and services with those provided by other sellers in the town.

Employment skills

When I applied for my first job at 15, I needed my mother’s help filling out my job application. Students who went to Young Ameritowne have already crossed that important threshold — filling out a job application (including references) and completing the dreaded job interview. With their first experience in both out of the way, they can feel more comfortable and prepared for future interviews.

Young Americans Bank is not unique; financial education resources like Young Ameritowne exist in other areas of the country. Consider adding a field trip like this to the curriculum — the investment leads to extraordinary payoff.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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