Northwestern Middle School students Molly Dimes, left, and Ashley Hoover look over their budget options at Finance Park.
Northwestern Middle School student Gabrielle Riddick reviews her household budget.
January 21, 2014MILTON, Ga. – Add financial literacy to the three "R's" of education (reading, writing and 'rithmetic) that encompass the skills kids need as they transition into adulthood. While knowing the Pythagorean theorem may get you through algebra, it may not help balance a checkbook or apply for a loan.
Beginning this year, middle school students from across the area will get real-life lessons in managing finances and becoming smart consumers through an innovative partnership between public and private enterprise.
The Junior Achievement Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center opened in September at the Georgia World Congress Center, with the focus on teaching students lessons that will open their eyes to the real world of income and outgo.
"The goal is to provide a dynamic learning experience [and] the opportunity to develop skills to become financially independent and responsible," said Jack Harris, president of Junior Achievement in Georgia (JA).
Discovery Center is composed of BizTown and Finance Park located on the third floor of Building C, and provides an interactive venue for students from Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta school systems.
Seventh-grade students from Northwestern Middle School recently spent the day at Finance Park, putting into action the financial lessons they learned in school. Part of the JA program is completing 18 mini-lessons on budgeting, credit scores, homeownership and other aspects of financial planning before visiting the center.
Upon arrival, the seventh-graders were given a "life situation" that assigned their age, marital status, education, employment, salary, taxes, credit score and other factors.
"Based on their adult persona, students visit businesses in the simulation to gather information to make financial decisions, such as managing a household budget, using banking services and making purchasing and investment decisions," explained Callie Majors, marketing director for Junior Achievement Georgia.
At the end of the day, students whose budgets exceeded their income were sent back to the drawing board until the numbers added up. Going into debt is not an option at Finance Park.
Harsh lessons were learned. Students learned a poor credit score meant paying more for the same car than their friends with better scores. Others learned eating out was not an option based on their budget. And for many, it meant forgoing designer duds for the clearance rack.
"The amazing thing was seeing how engaged every child was," said Northwestern Principal Jasmine Kullar. "They had rules and some structure, but they were pretty much working on their own. I think the students walked away having learned how much things cost and how quickly money can go."
The program is free to school systems, with the costs borne by the more than 50 companies who contributed money to open "storefronts" within Finance Park and Biz Town. Those businesses include Chick-Fil-A, Delta, Georgia Power, AT&T, Publix, SunTrust, Belk and many other companies with a presence in Atlanta.
"Finance Park was a great lifelong lesson that is relevant and applicable," said Kullar, noting all seventh-graders will visit Finance Park this school year. "We need to embed this learning into our curriculum as much as we can because of how important this life skill is."