Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on students’ financial literacy. The first part of the series ran Sunday, Oct. 13.
Three Angelina County organizations are working to help school districts with the financial education of East Texas students.
Each high school in the county offers some sort of financial literacy program. The class is mandatory at some of the schools and an optional elective at the others.
However, a nationally representative survey of college students conducted by WalletHub shows 30% of students grade their financial knowledge at a C or less. And Diana Polk, communications manager for the personal finance website WalletHub, said poor financial literacy in the U.S. has gotten to the point that more than 2 million college students (1 in 10) believe credit cards are free money.
Legacy Institute for Financial Education
Allanah and Joseph Ceasar run the Legacy Institute for Financial Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing tomorrow’s legacies today.
The institute offers multiple programs designed to provide in-depth financial education based on biblical principles to parents and students who have a desire to create generational wealth.
Generation A is an accountability-based mentorship program designed to hold students accountable to increase their responsibility and time management while teaching character and financial literacy components, Allanah Ceasar said.
The program follows a group of students from sixth- until 12th-grade.
They also recently created a program for Generation A parents called PASS — Parent Assisted Student Success.
“We’ve learned that it’s kind of tough to teach it to them in school, and then they go home and it’s not being enforced,” she said. “So, partnering and discussing with some other people, we came up with the PASS Program.”
The program is designed to give parents the resources to help their children increase their academic achievement at home.
“We help them with study skills, study tips, strategies, tools,” Allanah Ceasar said. “We offer workshops and courses.
“That program is designed basically to increase the parents’ efficacy and their belief that they can actually help their child, even if they haven’t gone to college, they can still support their child in a way that’s going to help them get to that next level.”
A third program has risen from Generation A called Campus LIFE, a student organization currently at Stephen F. Austin State University that they hope to bring to Angelina College.
“Campus LIFE is essentially what LIFE is, but on a student level,” Joseph Ceasar said. “We’re talking to them about student loan debt, entrepreneurship, the benefits package of their first job. College is meant to prepare you for a great career, and we want them to be prepared from day one.”
When they presented the program to about 100 students at SFA, more than half of them wanted to be in the program, he said.
The LIFE Skills programming includes the Juzi Spot and LIFE Tech.
“LIFE Tech has the tagline ‘technology with purpose,’” Joseph Ceasar said. “We’re actually teaching people how to refurbish computers. We’re the only Microsoft refurbisher in East Texas.”
The goal is to sell every computer for less than $100, which he said would be a great deal on nice machines. That provides an avenue for adults looking to learn how to use computers, how to repair computers or get into information technology, and how to find affordable machines.
The LIFE Tech program also provides an opportunity to earn a Google IT Support Specialist certificate and a Comp TIA A+ certification.
The Juzi Spot is a newly opened juice bar and vegan/vegetarian-friendly eatery that doubles as a training site for individuals seeking employment and entrepreneurial experience.
In partnership with WorkForce Solutions, the organization offers internships that provide an on-the-job training experience. Participants start at the cash register before moving into the kitchen for a food handler’s license and then into management for a food management license.
The final department is the Financial Opportunities Center geared toward adults in partnership with the T.L.L. Temple Foundation and Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
“It is a three-part program,” Joseph Ceasar said. “The first step is, when someone walks in and they need help financially, we want to take care of their immediate needs — ‘Are you eating today? Are you OK today?’”
He said the organization is an extension of the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, and they can educate people and help people apply for certain benefits.
“The second step is that we provide career coaching,” he said. “Our goal is to take someone who is making minimum wage or nothing at all and have them make a living wage, which in this area is about $12.50 an hour.”
That brings in partners like WorkForce Solutions and Angelina College.
“The final step is financial coaching,” he said. “Now that we’ve made sure you’re eating today and we’ve taught you how to fish, now you need to know how to manage the fish that you have.”
Participants go into training on budgeting, credit, saving, debt and more.
“It’s the full spectrum of financial literacy,” he said.
Financial Independence Training
East Texas Professional Credit Union hosts a Financial Independence Training for students between the ages of 12-22 in schools and community centers near its 12 different branches.
The two-day training covers topics like budgeting, saving and credit. Then the trainer does a one-on-one budget session with students.
“We call it a reality check,” said Jennifer Burris, business development manager at the credit union. “I give everybody a mock career with a monthly salary, and we go through and budget everything from housing all the way down to toilet paper.”
For many students, this is an eye-opener, Burris said. Many students don’t have a concept of price for things like detergent or food, and she said it can be fun to watch their reactions to going broke or getting a surprise check to balance their budget.
“This is for the youth of the future and for the credit union,” she said. “We started out as a teacher’s credit union, so the schools are very important to us on that aspect, as well. The youth is the future. They’re going to be the ones growing up and making financial decisions, and it’s our job to educate them to make the right choices so their credit can be good from the get-go.”
About 20 seniors took part in a training session during a recent visit to Zavalla High School.
“I think it’s important for our seniors to have a taste of what it’s like to be an adult because most students, when they get out, don’t know how to do things like apply for a loan or balance a checkbook or what credit cards really mean,” principal Patricia Cross said.
Senior Emily Wilkie said she didn’t really know how interest worked or the best ways to save, and she thought the training was valuable. “Some kids don’t even want to know this stuff, but you have to know it,” she said.
“I learned that I was spending way more than I thought,” senior Matthew Miles said. “(College students who don’t know about financial literacy) either don’t want to learn or they aren’t taught properly.’’
“Being an adult is much more expensive than I thought,” senior Christa Niederhofer said, adding that, “You can’t be a kid forever. You’re going to have bills.”
Senior Kennedy Peoples said having to budget with a set salary and housing costs and such was a good way to put what they learned into practice.
“I think everyone should have that class.’’
Burris gave the students a voucher to open up a savings account, and Matthew said he plans on taking advantage of that. Christa said she wants to open a second savings accounts for an emergency. Emily said she plans on watching her spending more closely.
But the program isn’t just for schools, Burris said. She has taught it at churches, day cares, parents’ homes and more. Anyone interested in scheduling a training session should contact Burris at email@example.com.
Junior Achievement is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering students with three pillars of success — work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
The programming is tailored for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The elementary student programming focuses on things like earn vs. save vs. spend vs. donate, said Staci Hodges, executive director of Junior Achievement of Angelina County.
“We talk about invisible money, and the difference between cash, check, credit, debit, things like that,” Hodges said. “Then as the children get older, we focus on things like our economics for success.”
That includes education and career options, budgeting, using credit, credit scores, financial risk and making sure the lifestyle the students want to lead can be supported by their financial choices.
Finally, high schoolers talk about earning, employment, income, budgeting, savings, credit, debit, consumer protection, smart shopping, risk management and investing through an eight-week course called Personal Finance.
“Budgeting, finance, money management — those are all life skills,” Hodges said. “Students are going to need that throughout their lives, whether they’re in elementary, middle school, high school, college, working.”
The curriculum, created by JA USA, ties into important Texas benchmarks like TEKs, as well, and gets regularly updated.
“We visit with the teachers throughout the year and visit about the programs to see what their needs are and to see what their needs are and to make sure that our programs are meeting those needs,” Hodges said. “What we’re hearing from the teachers is that this is very valuable to them. They see the need in the students, and they see the value that Junior Achievement can provide. They’re willing to allow class time for these programs because there is such a need for it.”
Additionally, the JA team has heard from businesses and community members that some students aren’t ready for the workforce. But they will be the next employees, co-workers, bosses and business owners, so Hodges said the programming is an important part of their education.
“We are really excited to be able to provide some of these opportunities to the students so that we can make a difference in their lives,” Hodges said. “We are absolutely affecting the next generation.”
Hodges invites teachers and school districts to contact her about bringing a program to their school. Contact Hodges at 632-0490 or firstname.lastname@example.org.