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Financial literacy course fascinates students

Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
By Matthew Bruun
May 3, 2009

Taking a family on vacation, paying for day care and controlling credit card debt are not foremost topics on the minds of most high school students.

But striking that fiscal balance was part of the curriculum for a group of nine Fitchburg High School students who were learning financial literacy during a multiweek program at the Montachusett Opportunity Council.

With topics including budgeting, credit, identity fraud and investing, the students learned lessons about money not necessarily covered during their regular school work. They attended five 90-minute sessions.

"We got a lot of kids who are really motivated," said Kim St. Laurent, youth services coordinator for the Montachusett Opportunity Council.

On a recent Friday afternoon, participants took part in a hypothetical budgeting session, offered by Workers Credit Union, called Mad City Money.

Linda J. Jackson, training manager for Workers, handed each student an alternate identity for the exercise, complete with job title, income level and family obligations.

They had to budget for housing, child care, groceries, furniture, clothes, entertainment and incidentals, among other costs.

"It's up to you to select what you want based on how you want to live your life," Ms. Jackson said, offering advice that echoed beyond the exercise at hand. "The key is to fit it all into the budget you have to spend."

"Life's expensive and you've got to think and spend your money wisely," said Evelyn Island, 17. For purposes of the class, she was a librarian with a young child. "If I'm at the store and I see something I like, I have to say, 'My baby might want something, too.' "

Rashida Williams, 16, was transformed into a graphic designer. In real life she's a sophomore at Fitchburg High, and she said the program was eye-opening.

"It helps me think what I'm going to do later in life," she said.

Guadalupe Cerrillos, 17, said the program has been valuable.

"I learned about the economy, about credit and all the problems we can face if we're not careful about money," she said.

"If I hadn't come here, I'd be in trouble," said Diem Tran, 17, who found information about identity theft particularly disquieting.

Kathleen Craigen, 17, said her peers would benefit from the program and called the Friday afternoon sessions time well spent.

Several participants have opened youth individual development accounts, with targets to save $500 within one year that will be matched by Montachusett Opportunity Council, said Deborah Namvar, asset development coordinator for the agency. Students can use the money to purchase an asset upon graduation from high school.

(c) 2009 Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)

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