Jessica Vang has been the Educational Director at the McKinney Branch Boys and Girls Club for just over a year. As part of her role at the Club, she teaches a financial literacy class called Money Matters to about 80 to 100 students per week (20 per calss), covering financial basics like budgeting, banking, the importance of saving, smart shopping and other money management concepts that apply to their everyday lives.
As an afterschool program, the Boys & Girls Club works to supplement what students are learning during the day, with tutoring and by teaching new content. Vang enjoys helping students master content they’re learning in school, and learn new concepts there may not be time for during the school day, including financial literacy. “What is most rewarding is witnessing these children develop a competent understanding of finances,” she says. “I know this will help shape financial decisions they make when they are older.”
The basis of the financial literacy program for youth 13 through 18 at the Boys & Girls Club is the Money Matters curriculum, created in partnership with the Charles Schwab Foundation. To supplement that curriculum and to serve her younger students, Vang began identifying lessons and activities and developing content of her own. Her goal has been to engage kids and teach financial concepts in an interactive way. A key to her success is that she makes sure to “relate each concept to their everyday lives.”
Along these lines, she begins each class with a discussion question on the topic that day. Questions like “What would you do if you found $100 dollars on the street?” or “How would you go about starting to create a budget?” get students discussing their own experiences and ideas about money. She says it surprised her in the beginning how eager they were to participate.
Exercises, activities and games follow the daily discussions in Vang’s class. Among the most popular of her exercises is one that requires students to browse through catalogs and comparison shop. “If they are going to learn about budgeting and responsible spending, it may as well be fun,” she says. Students select items and use a spreadsheet to record their prices at a variety of stores, to determine the store offering the best price. During this activity, she recalls one student asked her how it applies to the lives of kids, since “parents are the ones who decide these things.” Vang explained that actually, kids also make decisions about money. If they are given a few dollars to buy a drink, they can pay full price for a name brand drink or save money by purchasing the generic brand, for example.
Money journals are another popular exercise. Many of Vang’s third through fifth grade students earn allowances. She encourages them to ask their parents whether they can earn money by completing tasks around their homes outside of their normal chores. Many earn money this way then track their incomes and what they spend in their journals. Some can’t resist spending what they earn on candy and sodas, quickly learning that those classmates who have refrained from impulse buys have more money in the end.
Vang also recently had students create their own financial literacy board games. She provided financial literacy questions and game templates, and students came up with their own rules, then proceeded to play their games with one another. “I thought engaging them would be another fun way to learn about finances that they may not have before.”
Online games are another important component of Vang’s Money Matters class, including Practical Money Skills games like Money Metropolis. Kids gather around the class computers and work together to navigate spending and saving decisions. “They love the games at Practical Money Skills site. Some even ask how they can play at home!” she says.
With the school year just having come to an end, Vang is happy that she and her Money Matters students have had a successful year improving the financial literacy curriculum and learning important money management skills. As for the next school year, she plans to continue with her current curriculum and activities, and build on them with new exercises and educational trips to banks and other places where students can learn about money first-hand.
Practical Money Skills commends Jessica Vang for her efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Boys & Girl Clubs of Collin County.