5 Students Teach Us Why Financial Literacy Matters

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Eradicating financial illiteracy is once again the focus of our Foolanthropy drive. Like last year, we're setting out to make a difference in our own backyard. To do so, we're going back to school -- literally.

We're donating money to a local public charter high school in one of Washington, D.C.'s most impoverished neighborhoods. On top of that, we'll also be paying it forward the best way we know how: by volunteering to teach these students (and their parents) how to tackle the money issues they face today -- and the ones they'll face in the future.

What's better than giving away money?
No matter what the economy is doing, or which way the market winds blow, there's one thing all of us have in abundance: knowledge. Paying it forward is such an important part of our mission as investors and individuals that we devote an entire lesson about how to spread financial smarts in our Foolish Magna Carta, the 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly.

Throughout the coming year, Motley Fool volunteers will visit Thurgood Marshall Academy to pay forward what we've learned about money. Since it's been a couple of years since some of us were in high school (a-hem), our field trip last year to the school we adopted proved very enlightening. Here's our report from our trip back to school.

A school that gives second chances
Thurgood Marshall Academy's (TMA) mission is simple: Teach children how to solve complex problems, develop a voice of their own, and ultimately, succeed in college.

More than 90% of the students come from D.C.'s Ward 7 and Ward 8. Scholastic success and a college degree are not in the cards for most who grow up there. Ward 8 has the highest rate of children in poverty in the district, and is easily one of the toughest areas in the nation's capital. Only 1 in 3 students finishes high school within five years. Of those who do, only 1 in 20 earns a college degree within five years of graduation.

Acceptance to the school is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Demand is high -- TMA scores third-highest in tests of all city high schools with open enrollments. Innovative programs such as self-assessment tests and software classes help the students get the extra edge they need to succeed.

But it's not all classrooms and teachers. These kids have a high ambition to achieve, and the ones we met all expressed their gratefulness at being given the opportunity to attend TMA.

Money from a high-schooler's perspective
Remember what you did and did not know about finances when you were in high school? Neither did we. To help us with our first-day jitters, our student guide -- Markysha Dickens, a junior -- showed us around the school. Then we sat down to chat with five students -- a freshman, two sophomores, one junior, and one senior who was getting ready to head off to college next year.

It's good to see that some things never change: Just like when we were kids, they were happy to have the free pass from class, even if it meant chatting up a couple of Fools.

Kids these days ... they don't have it easy
We asked how the recession had affected them and their families. It has, in small and not-so-small ways. Some go out to movies less frequently; others chip in financially at home by covering utility bills and helping pay for groceries when they have money they've earned.

There's still a lot for them to learn about even the basics of managing money. Only one had a savings account. Only one knew what an interest rate was. We couldn't help but give a brief lecture about the importance of budgeting and the perils of credit card debt. When we explained how a $20 pizza could end up costing them $100, it got their attention.

We also learned that the finance industry doesn't discriminate against underprivileged children -- they were getting fleeced like the rest of us. Their summer pay (for jobs arranged through the school) was given to them on debit cards. Not only do they not have an opportunity to save their earnings, but they're also charged a transaction fee each time they use the card.

On the bright side, these are curious kids. Shamir, a 10th grader, said he had been looking for a book to teach him how to manage his own finances. Terrance, the college-bound senior, asked for advice on how to handle student loans. Ramesha, an 11th grader, said that when she's tempted to buy something she doesn't need, she gives her mom her wallet and tells her not to give it back until they get home. Pretty mature for a group of kids who live in an area where the average per-capita income is about $14,000.

An essay written by another Thurgood Marshall Academy senior reinforces why we continue to dedicate ourselves to eradicating financial illiteracy: The student writes: "It's really amazing that we can be in debt being the United States. We are supposed to be a very powerful country. Maybe things will get better, but I don't think it will be anytime soon. I really feel sorry for the generation after mine."

Where you, our community of Fools, come in
Maybe a handful of Motley Fools teaching money lessons in one D.C. public charter school can't save the next generation from the financial missteps of the previous ones. But student by student, we're going to do our best. And you can help, too.

We encourage you to carry on this Foolish spirit of volunteerism in your own community, at any worthy organization. In challenging economic times like these, there are most certainly causes that could benefit from your time and attention. And there's still a way for you to partner with us! For every article comment on during the campaign (Nov. 29 through Jan. 7), we'll give $0.10 to Thurgood Marshall Academy (up to $20,000). We're also donating $0.10 for every comment or "like" on our Facebook page, and for every new follower to our Twitter feed.

So please, feel free to use this opportunity to discuss the importance of financial literacy, volunteerism, and the ways you're giving back to your own community. We'd love to hear what you have to say.

The original version of this article was published in November 2009. It has been updated to reflect the latest trends in teen fashion.

Dayana Yochim and Jordan DiPietro are looking forward to your comments. Remember, it's for the children! The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (27) | Recommend This Article (20)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 1:30 PM, muskrat2010 wrote:

    Your ideas are an innovative means to get students the instruction they need in this area. As a financial advisor, I'm inspired and motivated to seek out schools in my area that may benefit from this. Thanks for sharing your path to helping kids get insight on how to manage money from financial professionals.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 1:50 PM, dfrizzle03 wrote:

    there is no one who cannot appreciate what the motley fool is attempting to do for these kids. I think that every kid should be forced to sit down and talk about finances and managing their money on a very basic level with their parents. it doesn't matter when this conversation takes place, but it should take place no matter what. or maybe the parent should take responsibility of the kid's money and invest/ save it for them and give them the money as they need it, sitting down and explaining what they are doing in the process.

    it's not only up to the fools to teach children about finances and managing what they have. it is on the shoulders of every American, but especially the parents of these children. however, i admire the fool's empathy for these children and their drive to learn. Keep up the good work!!

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 1:50 PM, dfrizzle03 wrote:


  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 1:50 PM, dfrizzle03 wrote:


  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 1:51 PM, dfrizzle03 wrote:


  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 1:51 PM, dfrizzle03 wrote:


  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 3:07 PM, jabontik wrote:

    What you are doing in this area is so important. It makes me want to buy your newsletters.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 3:09 PM, BMFPitt wrote:


    "I think that every kid should be forced to sit down and talk about finances and managing their money on a very basic level with their parents."

    The problem is that somebody needs to sit down and explain it to their parents first. We've got multiple generations of people who don't understand money, and you've gotta start somewhere.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 4:02 PM, Borbality wrote:

    comment for the kids!!!

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 8:14 PM, TheFoolishEdge wrote:

    Financial Literacy has to be taught in the school system. Implementation of a financial literacy curriculum in the k-12 market would have positive effects in the long run.

    Two great sites for financial literacy are the Presidents Advisory Council on Financial Literacy and MYMoney.Gov .

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 8:52 PM, targetphil2 wrote:

    HOLY CRAP! information overload on the number of topics today!

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 8:53 PM, targetphil2 wrote:


  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 8:55 PM, targetphil2 wrote:

    Although the new 10%ers are a very nice addition

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 8:57 PM, targetphil2 wrote:

    i feel like this is the Salvation Army kettle (i can here the ten cents clanging down the kettle)

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 8:58 PM, targetphil2 wrote:

    i hope dfrizzle03 is right

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 9:00 PM, targetphil2 wrote:

    I was SOOOO proud today, TMF quoted ME for an article today (and i can barely spell TMF)

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 9:12 PM, rd80 wrote:

    + ten cents.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 9:52 PM, TMFTomGardner wrote:

    Ten cents from me too.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2010, at 9:52 PM, TMFTomGardner wrote:

    And another.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2010, at 9:18 AM, jessjdc wrote:

    Ten cents!

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2010, at 1:43 PM, CMFStan8331 wrote:

    I've been saying this for years - the lack of financial education in our school systems is not only a disgrace and an abdication of our societal responsibility, it also puts us at a competitive disadvantage in the global market. Not to mention making it ridiculously easy for the banks to send us to the brink of another Great Depression.

    Kudos to TMF for trying to reverse that longstanding trend. Let's hope we can find ways to leverage and replicate your efforts across the entire country.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2010, at 6:03 PM, killerpants wrote:

    IT'S FOR THE KIDS!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2010, at 2:04 PM, TMFEbear wrote:

    Ten cents for the kiddos!

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2010, at 11:58 PM, Barrett66 wrote:

    I think each Foolish member should be commenting here! It's a great way to help kids get ahead, although I think $20,000 is a little low for the great and mighty Fool, but your time and teaching is invaluable. Every school should be looking for mentor programs with youthful business people and other leaders to teach a financial awareness course. I sure wish somebody did this for me when I was in school.

  • Report this Comment On December 07, 2010, at 3:30 PM, jmorv wrote:

    I was horible at Algebra before I entered High School so I opted for advanced "basic" math, which spilled over to analytical math, financial math, etc. I grew up in a time where credit cards were for the fiancial elite and bank cards were still being mulled over. I carried hard currency, my front pockets made the familiar "cha ching" sound when I walked. I can thank my father for the late nights of teaching me how much $1.37 came out to in nickles and pennies. Nowadays, you give children hard currency, they look at it funny and even laugh at the funny pictures on the bills as they place it in a box that has a Monopoly board. These days it's all about the plastic, but if a young child is not educated on the basics such as what $50 REALLY looks like, then it'll still just be numbers to them. My stepson got himself in a heap of trouble a few months ago while surfing iTunes. Turns out he overextended his bank account for about $200...his excuse?...I thought I had the money. Well, his ignorance and assumptions aside, kids don't realize the true value of a dollar. If they aren't careful, they'll spend their way into poverty and look to us to bail them out.

  • Report this Comment On December 14, 2010, at 7:48 AM, genellia wrote:

    Managing money is always challenging and the sooner you start, the better it is. Kids always are eager to know about money but with all of us working long hours, we hardly give them training to let them stand on their own when they grow up. I have started using to manage kids allowance. I also tie allowance to chores and also give incentives for good behaviour. There are also some very good ebooks out there which parents should read it to their kids

  • Report this Comment On December 17, 2010, at 11:52 AM, wglittle wrote:

    People interested in working in their public schools should look into Junior Achievement in their area. JA has unique programs that teach kids in 4th, 8th and 10grade about how the capitalist (its positive meaning) system works, and their role in it. It includes personal finance components. JA is always looking for volunteers to take their programs into the schools. Not a lot of time commitment, and the programs are ready to go.

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Foolanthropy 2010

“With an innovative, deserving partner in Thurgood, we’re focusing our efforts where Fools can make a real difference,” says Motley Fool Co-founder and CEO Tom Gardner. This holiday season, help The Motley Fool give disadvantaged students a superior education.

To learn more about our adopted school, or to make a donation, click here.

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