Eight local banks who have long supported financial literacy in Massachusetts public schools have formed a partnership to bring a popular event virtually to students this spring.
High school students throughout Massachusetts can participate in the Credit for Life Fair this spring via a responsive website, creditforlife.org, currently under construction. Designed to be a part of a high school class, the site is being designed by Stackpole & Partners of Newburyport, in collaboration with the Institution for Savings, Cape Cod 5, Bay Coast Bank, HarborOne Bank, The Savings Bank, Rockland Trust, Westfield Bank, Country Bank and FitMoney.org, a not-for-profit financial literacy organization.
The Credit for Life Fair, a half day event where high school students assume the roles of 25-year-old adults and spend their ‘paychecks’ on everything they will need to live, has been a popular event in many Massachusetts public schools for more than a decade. Many banks and credit unions throughout the Commonwealth host these events, using local resources and volunteers, and the Massachusetts State Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment has encouraged more fairs in recent years by making grants available to schools to participate.
The pandemic brought most of these events to a screeching halt. While several groups, including the North Shore’s Institution for Savings and Andover High School, pivoted to offer virtual fairs, participation was down at both events. Organizers connected last summer to explore collaboration on a better virtual experience in 2021 given the unlikelihood of large in-person events. They enlisted FitMoney.org who had given support to both spring Fairs via its partnership with New England Patriots Brandon Copeland, a passionate financial literacy advocate. Eventually the group expanded to include other banks who pooled funds to hire Stackpole for the design and implementation of the website, with FitMoney.org serving as fiscal agent.
“One fact that we all agree on was that the Credit for Life Fair is one of the most important and impactful events we do every year,” said Mary Anne Clancy, SVP of Marketing & Communications at Institution for Savings, one of the founding sponsors. “With Massachusetts legislation enacted in 2019 authorizing financial literacy to be taught in public schools, we know educators might appreciate this type of program…so we thought, why not collaborate and deliver one common tool that all schools can use to teach the same lessons?”
“Our long-term hope is that we can eventually go back to in-person fairs,” said David Floreen, former Massachusetts Bankers Association senior vice president, and organizer of Andover High School’s event. “In the interim, this website is a tool that educators and others can use right now, with the support of banks and other community organizations. Teachers are being asked to do so much right now, and this is one way we think we can help.”
Only six states in the country require high school students to take at least one semester-long personal finance class before graduation, according to Next Gen Personal Finance’s 2019-2020 progress report, and 15 more have personal finance in another course. The remaining states – more than half of the U.S. — don’t require students to have any personal finance education before graduating. Massachusetts is one of those states. In early 2019 Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation that allows state education officials to establish standards around financial literacy, which schools could incorporate into their existing curricula in subjects like math, business, and social sciences. It is unclear how much progress has been made on this initiative given the severe constraints put on schools by the pandemic.
“I have a deep respect for today’s students as they navigate this challenging academic year,” said Brandon Copeland. Copeland is well-known in the NFL for his passion for financial literacy and when not on the turf teaches a class at University of Pennsylvania called “Life 101″ focusing on this very subject. “I have no doubt they will make us proud as tomorrow’s leaders. Financial literacy is one of the most important subjects students can learn today, especially as we work to level the playing field for all our kids. Let’s continue our efforts together so our students will become financially savvy and responsible young adults.”
The website development is in its final stages and will be beta tested by a group of educators and others in the next month. The group hopes to have the site ready for use by high schools and others by the end of March. The group is also in the process of establishing a 501 c 3 that will allow it to raise funds and plan for future school financial literacy initiatives similar to creditforlife.org.
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