Financial Services major Audrey Jones ’24 stands next to three Scott Elementary School third graders huddling around a classroom table and watches as each one picks up a colored token and moves it along the Earn, Save, Spend, and Donate game board. The spaces represent the four choices consumers have with money and, together, the students pass prompts such as “visiting the amusement park for $30” and “donating plants to the community garden for $20.” It may look like just a game but, through the activity, Jones and Angela Baack ’23 are teaching students the fundamentals of financial literacy.
“Financial literacy is something I’m passionate about, and I feel that people should learn about it as soon as possible because no matter what you do, you're going to have to deal with finance in the future,” says Baack, also a Financial Services major.
The two women learned of the volunteer opportunity through Mara Derderian ’93, Finance lecturer and director of the Financial Planning Program. Derderian invited Junior Achievement of Rhode Island to campus to discuss its work in helping young people plan for their futures and make smart economic choices. After the nonprofit discussed its curriculum and teaching opportunities, Jones and Baack knew they wanted to volunteer — which is how they found themselves talking to Warwick elementary students about checks, debit and credit cards, and different types of bank accounts.
The idea to connect Bryant students with K-12 schools came to fruition last year after Derderian spoke to East Greenwich High School’s chapter of Invest in Girls, a nationwide organization that encourages young women to develop a working knowledge of financial terms. She met with the group several times and invited her Finance and Financial Services students to attend the sessions and share their experiences. Derderian then connected with North Providence High School and had Bryant students speak with students in its business pathway program.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students to practice what they’re learning in college, because if you can explain finance to someone else, then you understand it,” says Derderian, adding that she plans to expand her involvement with Junior Achievement of Rhode Island and with local schools. “If you don’t know what a 401(k) is, you might be hesitant to open one and then you miss an opportunity to start saving for your retirement. If you don’t understand how to establish a budget and the importance of sticking to it, you may find yourself living paycheck to paycheck with no savings."
Sara Letourneau ’23 visited North Providence High School last year and talked with students about her experience as a Financial Services major and her internship at a brokerage firm. She hopes the young women she spoke with recognize finance as a career option for them since women are a minority in the industry.
“Being able to give back to a younger community was cool,” says Letourneau. “It was also nice to see people who are going to grow up and step into a similar role.”
Back in the third-grade classroom, Jones and Baack have students working together to run a food truck or restaurant. Everyone has a specific job: accountant, marketer, manager, chef. The eight- and nine-year-olds determine how they’ll market the business, what food they’ll serve, and how much to charge. Over the course of the lesson, money is given and taken away from the businesses until — at the very end — students pay utility fees and determine if they’ve made a profit or loss; many of them broke even or made profits.
“If you can teach a little kid about finance, you have an advantage because you can probably teach an adult,” says Jones. “A lot of kids don't talk about money and think it’s a scary subject; it’s important that these kids learn it’s okay to talk about money.”
When the clock strikes 2 p.m., Baack and Jones wrap up their lessons — leaving kids with the takeaway that finance can be fun.
“I hope parents continue these conversations at home and that the kids, when they’re looking at their piggy banks, take more time to think about their decisions,” Baack says.