Gladstone teaches financial literacy

GLADSTONE — Gladstone Area Schools has an unique financial literacy initiative that sets itself apart from other schools in Michigan.

“Nobody has a financial literacy initiative where they’re really targeting all students K-12,” said Erika Fix, one of the teachers at Gladstone running the program.

As part of the larger initiative, teachers have received training to incorporate financial literacy into the curriculum and are offering the opportunity for students to attend summer camps, which focus on themes such as budgeting, preparing for college expenses and investing for the future.

The summer camps bring together students, parents, and financial advisors from the local area to discuss and promote college savings options.

Gladstone High School also offers a full year Financial Literacy course, which gives high school seniors an opportunity to learn about money choices, taxes, insurance and investing.

Fix, who teaches the year-long financial literacy course, said the initiative is run by a group of teachers from the different schools within Gladstone Area School District.

She explained the initiative itself started with Sue Beranek, who taught personal finance at Gladstone before she retired. Beranek reached out to Gladstone alumnus Mark Tibergien about the initiative and he provided the original donation that allowed the initiative to start, Fix said.

“His original donation got the course started. And then after the course was started, the students actually thought it would be neat to expand the programming,” she said.

Four years ago, the students put together presentations for Tibergien about what could be accomplished with more funding. He was so impressed with the students, he donated more.

“We’ve expanded into a lot of different things other than just the course,” Fix said.

The programs offered through the initiative include: the year-long course in financial literacy that seniors can take as an elective for a fourth year math credit; three summer camp programs for students in elementary, junior high and high school; funding and resources for teachers to incorporate financial literacy skills into core curriculum; a student branch of Delta County Credit Union for third to eighth-grade students; a Financial Reality Fair sponsored by local credit unions for all juniors; Financial Literacy Month activities; and a community outreach project within the year long course.

The goals of the financial literacy initiative are to educate Gladstone students in order to create a strong personal financial foundation, positively impact the reputation of the financial services community, encourage the next generation of graduates to consider financial services as a career choice, and encourage families to improve financial decision making and begin saving at a young age.

“People think it’s common sense and maybe for our grandparents it was common sense because you didn’t have credit cards, you didn’t borrow for student loans, people saved up and bought houses — but that’s not how it works anymore,” Fix said.

During the month of April, which is Financial Literacy Month, the schools provide numerous activities aimed to increase student access to financial literacy concepts.

One of these activities are trivia competitions each Friday for junior high and high school students to take part in, said Fix.

The Financial Reality Fair takes place during April also. Fix explained the fair is sponsored by local credit unions for all juniors to attend as a requirement of their economic education.

Different community financial experts from local banks and credit unions come and speak to students during the month too.

As part of the year long course, seniors have to accomplish a community outreach project and this year they are providing a limited number of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “Your Money, Your Goals” instructional toolkits to anyone in the community to utilize if they’re looking to improve their finances, said Fix.

The toolkits become available April 1. Fix said there is limited quantity, but anyone in the community can pick up one free of charge at any Gladstone School building main office.

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