by Natalie Barnes
When I first heard that all eighth graders would be participating in the Junior Achievement Finance Park curriculum, I was not looking forward to the experience. I assumed that it would be just one more thing to try to fit into the already jam-packed school year. However, in the end, I was delighted by the experience and look forward to participating in the future.
I attended a training at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year that shared highlights of the curriculum and took us on a tour of the location. I was still a bit confused, but the coordinators promised that once we looked at our curriculum guides, it would make much more sense. And they were right. The curriculum guide was well put-together, with color-coded organization, clear instructions, and detailed explanations. It also provided teaching suggestions, extension activities, and probing questions. The county required that we only cover a few lessons (shared between social studies and math class), which were mandatory material for the experience. However, there was a plethora of additional material for students who needed differentiation or teachers who had more time to further explore the content. Overall, the curriculum took approximately a week in math class and a week in social studies, although teachers were free to customize this for their classes as long as they met the minimum lesson requirements.
Each student had his or her own workbook. These were consumable workbooks that were designed to be engaging to students with various graphics as well as plenty of activities and space to work—all in full color.
The fourteen required lessons covered four main topics:
- Saving, Investing, and Risk Management
- Debit and Credit
Income and Budget were covered in math classes while the remaining topics were taught in social studies classes. While many situations were geared to future careers and salaries, students also spent a great deal of time analyzing situations and jobs that are common for middle and high school students. Many of my students were engaged as they examined current and future potential situations, applying the principles of financial literacy to their own lives. This became even more true as we prepared to attend the Financial Park.
The entire field trip was free of charge to students, ensuring that every student could come. The buses were prompt and because they were not school buses, students were excited to attend, and they felt like this was a special experience. When we arrived, they were ushered into the Financial Park auditorium to receive a brief overview of the day’s activities. But after only a few moments, they were split into groups and assigned a volunteer who would serve as their group leader for the day. Many of the volunteers were teachers, parents, student teachers, or community members. The students were often pleased to be working with an adult they knew. It was particularly advantageous to some of our students with learning disabilities or other special needs as they were able to be placed with supportive chaperones who allowed them to participate fully. We had a group who spoke very little English, which was assigned to a chaperone who also spoke Spanish, allowing the day to be conducted bilingually, truly allowing all the students to engage with the activities.
As they were assigned groups, each student received an iPad and a fictional scenario about their job, salary, marital status, and family situation. From there, they determined their monthly gross income and monthly net income, using the iPad. On the iPad, they then set a budget, allotting money for housing, transportation, utilities, food, clothing, entertainment, etc. During the budgeting time, they explored the Finance Park, which has various stations devoted to each of these categories, allowing students to research costs before making a final decision. After lunch, students then revisited each of these stations and actually “purchased” items. They had to first decide on renting an apartment or buying a house and then owning a car or using public transportation. Many times they had frustrating realizations that they simply could not afford the home or car of their dreams and had to settle for less expensive options. Once they had determined their housing and transportation options, students were then given a “debit card” linked to their iPad and account. They went shopping to the various stations around the Finance Park, buying different products and quickly realizing that their money supply was not endless. After their purchasing time was up, they worked through reflection activities with their chaperone and made any final changes to their monthly spending. One aspect of the reflection included a random event that caused them to spend money (e.g. the car needed repairs, the refrigerator stopped working, a child broke her arm).
I was amazed by my students’ enthusiasm during their time at the Finance Park. They were engaged in the activities and learned a great deal from the various aspects of the day. I heard many students comment that they now understood why their parents were worried about money. There was a tone of admiration in their voices as they spoke of their newfound respect for budgeting and making financial decisions. This message continued to be echoed as we completed a reflection lesson during math class the following day. Overall, the students spoke positively about the experience and shared many important things they had learned: you cannot have everything you want, budgeting is helpful for prioritizing your wants and needs, and saving money is important.
Overall, I was very impressed by the entire Junior Achievement Financial Park curriculum and field trip. From start to finish, it seemed to be a positive, informative, educational, and enjoyable experience for both students and teachers. I look forward to next year!
Read an overview of topics covered at the JA Finance Park website here.
Visit PGCPS’s Junior Achievement Finance Park web page here.
“Student Shares Experience at Junior Achievement Finance Park,” Washington Redskins website, June 2, 2016.
“News Release: PGCPS Celebrates Grand Opening of JA Finance Park,” PGCPS, October 28, 2015.