Financial Literacy Learning the Value of Financial Education
October 28, 2020
I was struck when I found out that only around 10% of high school students in the nation have access to personal finance education. While I was given the opportunity to take a financial literacy class in my freshman year of high school, I realized most states didn’t require financial literacy to be taught in schools. Why couldn’t this be taught to all students, I wondered?
The financial literacy class I took was called Career and Financial Management. I learned about topics ranging from budgeting and credit to investing and finance. I enjoyed the class so much and became interested in financial education and entrepreneurship as a result. I felt fortunate to take the class, given the underrepresented nature of financial literacy in society.
In sophomore year of high school, I started volunteering as an advocate at Nassau County Peer Diversion Court on Long Island, New York. It’s an entirely teen-composed courtroom in my county where youth advocates defend and hold other youth accountable for crimes. The program is based on the restorative justice philosophy, giving youth a second chance at a better future.
Peer Diversion Court is run entirely by teens. Able to represent others my age and make a difference, I became impassioned for the program. I also realized how akin the Peer Diversion Court was to the concept of financial education.
Financial education is something that can motivate youth and build them bright financial futures. Similarly, our court empowered youth and built them brighter futures through teen engagement.
In my junior year, I became interested in the intersection of financial literacy and crime prevention. I wondered how our court might provide groundwork for an effective financial education program. I did research on financial literacy programs and visited several. They were beneficial but I felt they lacked the peer-to-peer engagement touch that made Peer Diversion so successful.
I envisioned a program that could use financial literacy to empower youth, better communities, prevent crime, and more. I spoke with my mentors at the Peer Diversion Court who happened to recently attend a financial literacy conference. We agreed on developing this program in our community with peer-teaching of financial literacy. We called it Fin$marts Against Crimes.
I became very invested in the vision of Fin$marts because I knew we were working for a very important purpose. To me, the mission of Fin$marts was so much more than spreading financial literacy throughout the nation. It was also about advocating for better education policy, building up communities, empowering youth, and collaborating with like-minded organizations.
That summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. I worked with their community relations division and Community Partnership Program (CPP). One day while at work, I decided to pitch the idea of Fin$marts to the office. The staffers realized financial literacy was uncommon, not only in society, but among DA Offices as well.
The District Attorney’s Office strongly believed in our vision and we partnered with their Community Partnership Program. We became part of their crime prevention pilot called “Future Me.” Our team brought peer-to-peer financial literacy instruction to at-risk youth in middle and high schools throughout Nassau County.
In order to retain creative freedom and receive grant money to expand our organization, my mentors and I concluded it would be best for Fin$marts to become a 501(c)(3) entity. I went on to incorporate Fin$marts Against Crimes as a non-profit.
Our programs range from general financial literacy topics like budgeting, goal setting, and credit to entrepreneurship and investing workshops. Middle and high school students were very engaged and we saw firsthand the benefits of implementing peer-to-peer style education.
Sharing my financial knowledge with others my age has been super rewarding. It was also awesome to see young people thinking more entrepreneurially.
After COVID, all of our programs took a hit. We decided to focus on our internal operations. Currently, we have a chapter at Penn and our team is undergoing research and fellowship projects. We plan to expand to NYC within the next few months.
At the end of the day, I’m extremely grateful for the financial literacy class I took in high school. Taking that class, I had no idea my interests in financial literacy and entrepreneurship would turn into passions for the fields.
Now that I’m at Penn, I’m extremely glad to have the opportunity to work as a Peer Educator with Financial Wellness @ Penn and continue to teach financial literacy to my peers.
I believe there is lots of space for improvement in the world of financial education. I look forward to learning more about financial literacy and undertaking many projects in this field for years to come. One day, I hope all students are able to become financially literate in school.