Wells Fargo: Giving Students a Head Start on Financial Education

Originally published on stories.wf.com by Dustin Wilson and Jessica Pacek

Leah Johnson is using the financial lessons she learned at Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Teacher Quality and Retention Program Summer Institute to teach her fourth-grade students in Texas how to spend and save their money wisely.

When Leah Johnson attended her first financial education session at Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Teacher Quality and Retention Program Summer Institute in 2014, she was a junior in college and interested in learning about paying off credit cards and student loans. Five years later, she is in her fourth year of teaching and hoping to buy a home. And she is using the financial lessons she learned to teach her fourth-grade students at Carroll Elementary with Aldine Independent School District in Houston.

Leah Johnson incorporates financial fundamentals in her fourth-grade class in Houston, Texas. The idea came after Johnson attended the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Teacher Quality and Retention Program. (2:53)
“I try to take the information I received and put it in my classroom to give my students a head start,” Johnson said. “You’re always going to have to pay someone for something, and you can lose money if you don’t spend it correctly.”Johnson recently completed her five-year fellowship with Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Teacher Quality and Retention Program, which provides training and mentoring to new and aspiring teachers from historically black colleges and universities. Over the last 10 years, the program has served about 700 teachers across the nation.“When teachers feel that they are effective and have the support that they need, they remain in the classroom,” said Moseka Medlock, program manager for Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “Over the first two years of teaching, that’s when we lose a lot of our teachers, so that’s why the TQRP was created — to support teachers in that very tenuous period of their first three years of teaching.”

The program provides a two-week Summer Institute for fellows, alumni, and staff to come together so fellows are prepared to enter and succeed in competitive and challenging teaching environments.

“Educators teach every single profession,” said Ashley Odom, program manager for Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “You want those people that are teaching our future doctors, our future lawyers, and our future engineers to be quality teachers. This program instills teachers with the skills they need. It’s a way to give back and make sure that we’re creating those future leaders because they have a quality teacher.”

During the Summer Institute, team member volunteers from Wells Fargo provide fellows with financial education using the Hands on Banking® curriculum, while also introducing the lesson plans and resources to take back to the classroom to help students establish healthier financial goals. Over the past 10 years, Wells Fargo has also invested more than $9 million in Thurgood Marshall College Fund programs like TQRP.

“Wells Fargo is proud to support this outstanding organization, which serves so many talented young professionals,” said Rob Engel, co-head of Corporate and Investment Banking for Wells Fargo and a board member for Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “The Thurgood Marshall College Fund provides the resources to help gifted graduates of publically supported HBCUs compete at the highest levels in their careers. Wells Fargo’s support of Thurgood Marshall College Fund is an example of how our values of diversity and inclusion, ethics, leadership, and people as a competitive advantage are put into action.”

A blurred image of children sitting at desks with their hands raised has a quote at the top: “When teachers feel that they are effective and have the support that they need, they remain in the classroom.” — Moseka Medlock

Teaching future generations to spend wisely

Through the financial education sessions, Johnson said she has learned the importance of paying off credit cards and avoiding interest fees. She has since bought a car and hopes to buy a home in the next two years.

After attending the Summer Institute for a few years, Johnson said she realized last year that she wanted to pass along the financial education she received to her students. By using the classroom management system, ClassDojo, her students earn points by answering questions correctly or displaying good behavior. On designated days, the “class banker” distributes the points in the form of coupons for things like listening to music during independent time or a free homework pass. Students also have to pay a monthly “rent” for their desk and chair and pay a fee if they lose points.

“If I have 65 points or above, I would like to spend it on playing on the iPad or computer for 15 minutes because I would like to have a break from work, and it will be fun to play on the computer or iPad,” said Heaven Arriaga, 10, a student in Johnson’s class. “If I save my Dojo bucks, I can get a bigger reward. If I want to spend it, I can, but I can save it to get a bigger thing.”

A collage of images show students sitting at a desk, a teacher working with a student, a student standing and writing, a hand with Dojo bucks, and signs on the wall about Dojo dollars.
Leah Johnson teaches her students the same financial education lessons she learned at Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Teacher Quality and Retention Program.

Johnson said she tries to instill the importance of saving. “I wish I would’ve known this information,” she said. “Maybe instead of a shopping spree, I should’ve saved. With the ClassDojo, I found students are honing in on savings. They might save to possibly get lunch with me or a free homework pass. It’s also created a sense of community because one student may add onto another’s if they’re having a bad day. I had one student give $20 in class money for another student’s birthday, and that student was able to get a free homework pass.”

“If I don’t have enough, I just need to save so I get the points I need to buy what I want,” said student Chloe Lopez, 10. “The Dojo points program helps me by saving my money and being responsible for my money. You have to spend your money wisely.”

Another student, Larry Richmond, 10, said he likes to spend his Dojo bucks to use the computer for fun. “I’ve learned how to save my Dojo bucks by listening on the first day and being very responsible with it,” he said.

When students don’t have enough money to pay their “rent” or other “expenses,” Johnson talks to them about why they don’t have enough and what would happen if they were an adult.

“I save my Dojo bucks because I want to get higher points,” said student Tino Medrano, 9. “In my mind, I think it’s like a challenge, to see who has the most, and I’m in first place. Whenever you’re in the red spot, you still have to pay rent either way.”

Johnson said she hopes by instilling these and other lessons she is having a positive impact on future generations and helping her students to be better prepared for the real world.

“If I give the information I’m getting at 26 to a 9 year old, they can get a head start, instead of them being like I was, in their 20s and worrying about paying back credit cards or student loans,” Johnson said.


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