On a 20–acre campus in Provo, Utah at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, there's a school where at–risk teens are building hopeful futures and healthy relationships. Cindy Barlow teaches at Heritage School which has been called a "refuge of last resort" for students who have exhausted traditional educational, welfare and other programs.
The Heritage philosophy encourages students to have responsible relationships with other individuals and the greater community. Barlow promotes this idea in the classes she teaches which range from horticulture and music appreciation to choir and social skills/careers class which highlights financial literacy.
"Having healthy relationships motivates you to do the things that are good for you in life," Barlow says. Building a healthy relationship with money is an especially vital life skill for the students at Heritage.
"Many of them have lived on the streets. Many of them don't know how to live on their own. Many don't have positive family interactions," Barlow says. "A lot of them will be out there on their own without assistance trying to figure it out."
Barlow uses the Practical Money Skills for Life curriculum from beginning to end to build financial confidence among her students. She spends a majority of her time on the credit card and advertising sections of the program.
The financial education provides eye–opening experiences for her classes. "A lot of them are really surprised. They don't know what banks do. They don't know about charges and interest rates," she says. "They're oblivious to it and victim to media. The media is their teacher. That's why I go into the advertising piece."
Some of the biggest changes among students who have completed the financial program are evident in their budgeting and spending skills. At Heritage, students are given an allowance account to manage and use at their discretion. They need to maintain a minimum of five dollars to keep it active, and Barlow says many only keep the five dollars in their accounts.
After she teaches the budgeting section, she says, "Fifty percent of them are better with their money. We have a campus store, and they cut back on their spending. I ask them what they have in their student account. I challenge them to know what's in there, what they make, and to keep track of it and know ahead of time what they have to spend."
When asked if she believes someone from a background with no financial experience can catch up in life, Barlow says, "I think you can to a certain extent and life teaches you the rest. These kids have learned a lot. Everything they learned in class they keep in a notebook as a 'Guidebook to Life,' and I get calls from kids years later just thanking me for letting them keep this and teaching them how to balance a check book and reconcile an account."
Barlow reinforces to her students that money, like most facets of life, requires a healthy relationship. If students ever get confused or don't know where to turn with financial matters, she says they should go to a bank for guidance and get a "life team" together to help them. The idea is to find and develop relationships with positive people who can assist them in life with the things with which they need help.
"The biggest thing is to pick yourself to be on your own team," Barlow insists. "You're the team captain."