Dora Walker is no stranger to teaching at-risk youth and making a difference in their lives. For over 34 years, currently in South Central Los Angeles middle and high schools, she's walked into classrooms to teach financial literacy. Her young audiences are typically uninterested in her message about money management, and the key to success was finding a way of connecting with the inner city youth.
"We focus on what they want to do for a career. What they need to know is that fast money is not always good money," said Walker, who taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District and East St. Louis, IL, for 23 years before retiring founding Liberators, Inc. in 2006. The non-profit organization's mission is educating youth and families to become responsible managers of their resources by providing services to schools in urban communities to assist teachers in developing standards-based instructional units, which embed financial concepts.
Addressing the rising cost of college and how to invest in the stock market are part of the financial literacy curriculum covered in 4-6 week instructional units conducted by the organization in partnership with local schools which targets required content standards or objectives, while teaching students about the world of money and business.
Working with schools in the Los Angeles area, Walker and her staff co-teach with educators within the districts they serve. Financial concepts like the Rule of 72 "fascinates" the students along with lessons on compound interest, mutual funds, investing vs. saving, entrepreneurship, understanding credit, education and retirement planning, and goal setting.
She educates students about their role in making money legitimately in four different ways: as an employee, self-employed, business owner or an investor. "We talk about how money works for you and the power of compound interest. How you can start with a little and over time amass a fortune," said Walker, who teaches 150 students at each school that is engaged in the program. The instructional unit is co-taught in collaboration with another participating teacher including educators at Locke High School (now Green Dot) and Inglewood High School.
Working with the educators, Walker's organization infuses financial literacy lessons into their existing curriculum. "We work with the students on aspects of their future career. How much will it pay? What will it take in terms of training?" said Walker. "To get them to buy into the program, we focus on what is important to them. How they can be successful doing what they enjoy. We are big on entrepreneurship."
One male 9th grade student, who was one of Walker's most difficult in recent years, started the course by being disruptive and attempting to derail the classroom activities. Over time, he stopped being disrespectful to the instructors and accepted and embraced the program. He went on to graduate and enroll in a trade tech college as a mechanical engineering student.
"He was so misdirected and off track before he took the financial literacy class. Now he's graduated from high school and is headed to college," Walker said, of the student who is one of her success stories. "He wrote me a letter saying 'I wasn't a person that thought I was smart at first, and now I know that I'm an intelligent person and now I know what I am going to be in life.'"
Practical Money Skills commends Dora Walker for her commitment to financial literacy education in the Los Angeles, CA area as an educator and now as a leader in her non-profit organization, Liberators Inc.