Banker uses position to teach kids about finances

One United Bank of Michigan employee is on a mission to ensure children understand the value of money before they grow older.

Alexandra Crow, relationship manager for United Bank of Michigan, is volunteering with Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes (JAMGL). JA is an organization that uses volunteers to teach children in grades K-12 about jobs, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

Laura Lutterbeck, district director and chief marketing officer for Junior Achievement of Southwest Michigan and Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes, said JAMGL was started in 1955 and now covers 50 counties in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. JA has been around for more than 100 years.

“United Bank is a longtime supporter of Junior Achievement,” she said. “United bankers have been classroom volunteers for over 20 years. As a new United banker, I had the opportunity to attend one of Junior Achievement’s fundraising dinners. JA volunteers and students told their stories of involvement and how JA’s educational and fun curriculum taught them life lessons that would benefit them for years to come. The stories they told really moved and motivated me to get involved with the organization.”

In her day job at the bank’s Rockford branch, Crow supervises the daily operations of the branch and services a variety of new account and lending needs. But at least one to two times per school year, since April 2019, she has ventured into classrooms at Northview Public Schools and Grand Rapids Public Schools to work with kindergartners and first-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

“Junior Achievement has pre-set curriculum for each grade level,” she said. “In kindergarten we learn about making choices, needs vs. wants, earning, saving and sharing money. First grade introduces students to entrepreneurship and the concept of needs and wants, and investigates the ways families spend money to acquire goods and services. Fourth grade dives into entrepreneurship, providing students with a practical approach to starting a business while preparing them to be entrepreneurial in their thinking to meet the requirements of a demanding and ever-changing workforce. And the fifth-grade lesson will cover information about America’s free market system and how it serves as an economic engine for businesses and careers.

“The curriculum also introduces the need for entrepreneurial and innovative thinking to meet the requirements of high-growth, high-demand careers and it explores the concept of globalization in business,” she said. “JA makes volunteering so easy. They give you everything you need to present and the order in which to present it. All you need to do is study through it prior to presenting each lesson to the class. Generally, each grade level will receive five, 30-to-60-minute lessons.”

In an infographic published in 2018 by Visual Capitalist in collaboration with Next Gen Personal Finance, a nonprofit that provides a free online curriculum of personal finance courses geared to students, it showed the U.S. ranked 14th in the world in terms of financial literacy (57%), behind Germany (66%) and Canada (68%), but ahead of Botswana (52%).

The infographic also showed that only 16.4% of U.S. students were required to take a personal finance class in school.

According to Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, the Generation Z population (who were born after 1996) is seeing how the millennial population (born between 1981-1996) is struggling with wages and college debt, so they are taking note and doing things differently.

“I’m always surprised by how much these kids already know,” Crow said. “We’ll have discussions of how items in the lessons may be similar to something they’ve seen before — the students love to share their ideas and experiences. If something is new, they’re eager to learn — seeing their wheels spin when posed a question is so inspiring. Junior Achievement has spent so much time and effort creating practical lessons and materials to educate students about things they will encounter at some point in their life. As a volunteer, I have the fun job of presenting and discussing the material with the students. Whether it’s opening up their first lemonade stand or concocting a new service or goods to sell, every JA session presents a practical lesson.”

In a traditional school year, Lutterbeck said JAMGL impacts about 70,000 students. In a normal school year, approximately 16,000 educators collaborate with 17,000 volunteers to work in 28,000 classrooms at 328 schools in the region.

Despite the pandemic that disrupted the 2019-20 school year, there still were 247,350 JA volunteers nationally who helped 4,777,567 students in 208,373 classes at 21,503 schools.

“Pre-pandemic volunteers had physical program materials consisting of books, games, fliers and posters to bring into classrooms,” Crow said. “Now, there is an online platform consisting of interactive content with virtual options. There are downloadable and fillable documents for teachers to distribute to their class so the kids can interact along with us.”

Additionally, JAMGL is using the pandemic as a teaching moment that is designed for middle and high schoolers. The organization released a free guide for teens titled Making Sense: Understanding the Financial Impact of COVID-19.

The guide answers teens’ questions about the economic implications of COVID-19, including “Why are some store shelves empty?” or “Why are some people losing their jobs?”

It also explains what a recession is, how the Federal Reserve works, and steps being taken by government and the private sector to deal with the economic impact associated with COVID-19. 

Although the guide is designed for students who are older than the kids Crow works with, understanding finances at an early age is pivotal to the success of students in life, she said.

“As a banker, financial literacy is very important to me,” she said. “Setting people up for financial success stems from educating them on how to go about it. Having those conversations about budgeting, earning and managing money happens at work on a daily basis. United Bank is so proud to support Junior Achievement and help put kids on the path to a bright financial future. What better place to start than the classroom?”

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