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Economic Knowledge Gives Students A Powerful Start

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For over a dozen years, April has been recognized as Financial Literacy Month in the U.S. A recent survey by Junior Achievement shows most students get information on managing money from their parents. Jack Kosakowski, the President and CEO of Junior Achievement USA, says the results of their annual survey have remained pretty consistent. "That really puts a responsibility on parents. Beyond that, [students] then go down to social media sites to get [financial] information which, depending on which site they go to could be good or could be problematic. Then, even beyond that they would reach out to other members of their family or friends."

The survey results were also somewhat predictable when it came to students’ financial worries. "Having money to go to college was their top concern about money. Their second had to do with finding a well paying but meaningful job when they get out of school. And then beyond that they're thinking even longer term [thinking about] will they be able to afford to purchase a home."

"It's not how much money you make, it's what you do with it" says Dwana Styles, an Economics teacher at Escambia High School in Pensacola. Many of her students are from lower income families. She agrees that most of her students get their financial education from their parents, but they still have a lot to learn. "You're not going to have a life of poverty just because your parents are lower income. We are the greatest country on Earth, so just because you're poor, that doesn't dictate your future."

In her class, Styles not only teaches the nuts and bolts of making a budget and balancing a checkbook, but also common sense lessons about getting the most from your income. "I try to teach the students about generic and name-brand products, I taught them to read labels to see that this product is the exact same as something else. I teach them how to get the cheapest car insurance, the best cell phone deal, in college try to avoid as many student loans as possible. I just try to teach them real life experiences with economics."

And one of those real life experiences is actually shopping for car insurance. "[Each student] is assigned an insurance company. I have two cars, and I normally use my cars because I know how much [the insurance on them] costs per month. And they have to call, or go on line or visit the insurance company in person and they have to [then] tell me how much they are going to pay for insurance per month. they have to go and actually get a mock quote. So, that's a real life experience. You want this fancy car, your car is $400 per month or more. Your insurance is [$300 dollars per month], and you only make [$1,200 per month]. So where [can you afford] to live? So I make them have a realistic budget."

Dwana Styles classroom is filled with pictures of students she has taught over the past 15 years, many of whom give her credit for helping them get a head start of their financial life. And speaking of credit. "Oh, I tell them that credit is very important! That it's your lifeline. That sometimes it's not how much money you make, it's how high your credit scores are, and you need to make sure you guard [those scores]. I start telling them right away that you pay your bills on time. Your economics is about choices. The choices you make today will affect you later on in life. And even 5 years from now, 10, 20, the choices you make will affect you. Where you live, what type of car you drive, what type of community you live in, your student loan, economics is all about choices. And with some choices come consequences. It can be good or bad."

According to the latest Florida High School Graduation Requirement, a student must have 24 credits to graduate and those credits must include one-half credit in economics, which must include financial literacy. Jack Kosakowski from Junior Achievement says nationwide, financial literacy is still not a big priority in school. "One of the interesting stats that came out of this survey for example is that 95 percent of the students that we interviewed believe that [financial literacy] should be taught in school, yet only 18 percent said that they are getting any kind of this information in their school."

Back at Escambia High School, Dwana Styles continues to teach her students about financial literacy, and to be better than the generations that came before. "You are a new generation, you're supposed to be wiser than your parents, you're supposed to know more. And that's what I often tell them. You should live longer than your parents because of all the advances we have in science. You should be better. Your generation should be better. And you should be wiser as a consumer than your parents...because we have more knowledge. See, knowledge is power."

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.