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School of Social Work Brings Financial Literacy Concepts to Baltimore Classrooms

The University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) has given middle school students at three Baltimore City schools an introduction to financial literacy as part of the School's Financial Social Work Initiative.

Students at Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School, Steuart Hill Academic Academy Middle School, and Booker T. Washington Middle School were taught basic principles of asset building such as how and why to save money.

The Citi Foundation funded the program, Financial Literacy Volunteers Initiative (FLVI), through a $33,000 grant to the School's Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS). In cooperation with the Baltimore City Public Schools, the grant supported delivery of four sessions of financial education to 334 low-income students.

Maryland standards requiring instruction in financial literacy for public school grades three through 12 go into effect for the 2011-2012 school term that began this week. The Maryland State Department of Education has been supporting professional development in the Family Economics and Financial Education (FEFE) model, offered by the Take Charge America Institute of the University of Arizona.

The Citi grant enabled SWCOS to acquire training and materials from FEFE for use by 16 graduate-level social work interns, known as volunteer educators. The grant covered stipends for these volunteer educators: Anna Thomasson, Sara Vazquez, Kelly Garafola, Robyn Adams, Magaly Llanos, Shanay Williams-Payne, Alaric Phillips, Genevieve Roanhouse, Rachel Markus, Bilqis Rock, Hanna Badalova, Karen Czajkowski, Dan Meisner, Jenea Felix, Katie Waltrup, and Jennifer Zenitz.

They taught the curriculum while working toward their master's degrees at the SSW, which has assumed a leadership role in the emerging practice area of financial social work. "Asset building is an important approach in the poverty fighting tool kit," says Dick Cook, MSW, director of SWCOS, which directs several programs that increase the financial capacity of individuals and communities in Maryland.

The design and development of the FLVI program was the advanced field education experience for Pamela Parnell, MSW '11, under supervision by faculty field instructor Randa Deacon, MSW. Together, these two adapted the FEFE curriculum materials to appeal to Baltimore City middle school students.

Parnell says she found the content to be meaningful to the group of volunteer educators as well as to others. "This has been an incredible opportunity to empower students, community members, teachers, and ourselves with financial literacy concepts," she said. For example, not only were teachers able to see engaging financial literacy activities modeled for them but they were familiarized with the FEFE curriculum resources. Both will help them to develop lesson plans in the upcoming school year.

The four sessions were titled: "How Do You Get Money?", "Where Does Money Go?", "How Does Money Grow?", and "The Cost of Cool." These presentations helped the middle school students understand such concepts as the difference between needs and wants, budgeting, tracking expenses, and the basics of savings and of understanding credit.

"It's very important to expose students to positive financial behavior as early as possible. Those habits learned at this stage will stay with them for a very long time," says Reginald Exum, vice president of the South Atlantic region for Citi Community Development. In the photo above, Exum and Deacon, far right, are shown in a classroom.

During four, 1-hour sessions, the volunteer educators used techniques that they had devised to gain and hold the attention of the Baltimore youngsters, including games with balloons and role-playing scenarios that show the consequences of spending rather than saving. A comparison-shopping exercise was a popular activity as students priced breakfast cereals and then conducted taste tests. Many were surprised to discover they preferred the cheaper house brands to their name-brand favorites.

To demonstrate what they were learning, students prepared educational products including a spending plan and an essay that envisioned their future financial capacity. They were taught the distinction between terms such as "career," "job," and "occupation" to better understand how their education and employment would be linked to earning potential.

Several of the SSW volunteer educators honored the youngsters in their classes at Maree Farring, at 300 Pontiac Ave., in Baltimore, with pizza, punch, and a presentation of certificates that was attended by Exum, who represented Citi. He got an eager show of hands when he asked questions about what sixth graders had learned.

Many had personalized the bright green portfolios that held the products of their education. Inside, one lesson on saving advised: "Pay yourself first," accompanied by real-life reasons why people should save for unexpected occurrences such as cars breaking down or medical emergencies.

Principal Linda Brewster, MEd, noted the positive reaction of students to the educators' presentations. "They were hanging on every word," she said. "They need programs like this to stimulate them," she added.

FLVI reached 34 sixth-graders, 46 seventh-graders, and 37 eighth-graders at Maree Farring, where most of the students in grades K-8 are from families whose low incomes qualify their children for free lunches.

"I don't think they're getting a lot of this at home," said Assistant Principal Sharon "Kate" Faelten, MA. "For their families, it's not about financial management; it's about making it from paycheck to paycheck. But there's a wider world out there, and we want them to know they can be a part of it. It helps us make a link to the real world."

Posting Date: 08/31/2011
Contact Name: Patricia Fanning
Contact Phone: 410-706-7946
Contact Email: pfanning@umaryland.edu