BALTIMORE — Financial literacy is sometimes a subject that stumps educators. It’s also no secret that, outside of Wall Street, there are many adults who find the stock market difficult to follow, much less invest in.
However, a successful program called Stocks in the Future is helping middle school students from underserved communities become financially literate.
The program provides hundreds of sixth, seventh and eighth graders from low-income families or from the inner city a financial investment course that contains rewards of real money, which they can use to invest in companies like Facebook.
“We want to encourage the students and teach them to invest in themselves,” said Rebecca Lange-Thernes, the executive director of Stocks in the Future, or SIF. “The concentration is on learning to invest in publicly traded companies and they have about nine choices. Sometimes the choices change but we have Coca-Cola, EA Sports, Facebook, companies they know and love.”
More than 200 students graduated from the three-level program in May, a feat, which coincided with the program’s 15th anniversary.
Upon graduation, students gain full ownership of their accumulated stock portfolio, providing them with a good start moving forward. The program has also sparked a competitive spirit among students, which officials say, helps them to succeed.
Lange-Thernes pointed out that Sharlene, a seventh grader at Violetville Elementary/Middle School watched as classmates used their “SIF dollars” to make stock purchases. She had not earned any incentive dollars to invest due to poor attendance and stagnant grades. The disappointment was enough for her to express frustration to her SIF teacher, who had a heart-to-heart conversation with her about why she had few dollars to invest.
Sharlene then made a conscious decision to prioritize school this year and her teacher reported that she ended the first quarter with near-perfect attendance.
“I learned that if I want something, I have to come to school and work hard for it,” Sharlene said. “Last year, I was failing Math but this year I’m passing.”
Gaining a personal understanding of how SIF’s program could impact her daily school life became Sharlene’s tipping point working toward a personal goal, Lange-Thernes said.
Officials noted that SIF reverses fifth graders’ poor attendance and by the sixth grade, the absenteeism rates drop by four days during the year.
Three-year SIF students who have participated in the program in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, attend school two-weeks more during that timeframe than their peers and two SIF program pilots and evaluation results show SIF helps the students master important new vocabulary, to better comprehend nonfiction articles on investing/current events, and to apply their mathematical knowledge.
“I’ve been with the organization for six years … I’m always energized by the enthusiasm that the students have when it comes to learning this information,” Lange-Thernes said. They get really excited and when you see that it makes you excited. There is a lot of positive energy that comes out of our program.”
Lange-Thernes says the hook is real money.
“It’s not the main concentration but it’s a good hook as far as getting their attention,” she said. “Once you have the hook, they review math skills, art, and concepts in social studies and then they start to learn the importance of coming to school every day and doing well academically.”
For more information about SIF, visit www.stocksinthefuture.org.