Valley Voices

Kids and cash: Do you really need a robot?

Whether a remote-controlled robot is a want or a need was pondered by 28 kindergarten, first- and second-graders one evening recently. At first the youngsters had guessed they were there to discuss homework, and were happy to learn that was not the case. They decided to put the robot in the “want” column along with a tablet, a cat and apple juice, while food, clothing, water, books and love lined up under needs. One bright youngster was able to define a need as “something you have to have in order to live.”

This important critical thinking took place for students in grades K-8 and their parents at a financial literacy workshop at Tehipite Middle School. It was brought to the school through Steve’s Scholars, a scholarship program my husband and I organize that rewards Tehipite students if they maintain excellent grades and attendance and perform annual community service from grades 7 -12. The financial workshop was sponsored and produced by Citibank, which gifted the school with $15,000 to be used for three financial education workshops. Principal Yvonne Zysling worked with Citibank managers to plan the workshop logistics.

Around 200 parents and children participated in age-appropriate activities after a festive pasta dinner served by students who were earning community service credits toward their scholarship requirements. Parents were divided into those who preferred to learn about credit and banking in English, and those who preferred to learn in Spanish. The English group was led by John Shore, the executive director of the Housing Council in Fresno, and a banker.

The council provides free classes for first-time home buyers, teaches financial management and budgeting, as well as education about predatory lending. Two Citibank employees led the Spanish-speaking group with identical topics. Each parent received a bookmark with “credit rules” carrying a reminder that a credit card is just like a loan and you have to pay what you owe, and owing more than you can repay can damage your credit rating and make it hard to finance a car and even get a job.

Children were divided into classrooms according to grade: K-2, 3-5, and two groups of 6-8. The teachers were Citibank employees using the Teach Children to Save curriculum, with assistance in each group from a regular Tehipite teacher. Teach Children to Save is a national program that organizes banker volunteers to help young people develop a savings habit early in life.

Third- to fifth-graders also talked about wants and needs but on a more sophisticated level than the younger students, and learned about non-profit groups and how they help people in need. They were encouraged to volunteer and give back to the community as soon as they were able.

The oldest students in grades 6-8 discussed “What is the cost of cool?” with bankers. They learned about advertising, comparison shopping and opportunity cost, defined as giving up the freedom to buy one thing in order to buy something else. Groups practiced shopping for clothing on a $200 budget. Students calculated the difference between low- and high-priced similar items, then found the average price. They discussed the pros and cons of buying name brands versus generic brands. They debated purchasing the highest-priced $230 sweatshirt versus the lowest priced $30 variety. One group decided to comparison shop, ended up spending only $160 out of their $200 budget for their practice shopping, and then decided to give the remaining $40 to their church.

Rewards were plentiful for students and parents at the end of a long work or school day.

We felt rewarded that the parents, who like many others in Fresno, struggle constantly with financial issues, asked good questions and gained important information about staying away from store-front money lenders, establishing credit, and not being fearful about visiting a legitimate bank. It was exciting that our request to Citibank for a modest contribution fell on receptive ears and ended up in a huge, successful undertaking.

We all look forward to more workshops in the fall.

Francine M. Farber is a full-time community volunteer. She and her husband began the Steve’s Scholars program three years ago at Tehipite Middle School.