Here are some alarming statistics, according to Forbes: one-third of Americans do not pay their bills on time. Thirty-three percent do not have any money saved for retirement. Thirty eight percent of American households have severe credit card debt. And millions of people, well into their 40s and 50s, don’t know how to properly balance a budget or plan for their futures. There seems to be a financial literacy deficit—but Montgomery College (MC) wants to change that. By partnering with Junior Achievement of Greater Washington and the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), MC is ensuring that every student in the Montgomery County Public School system is educated in financial literacy and aware of all higher education opportunities.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) now requires every seventh grade student to complete 14 hours of financial literacy coursework. “We are essentially preparing kids for what really matters: being ready to enter the workforce and higher education with confidence, with drive, and with direction,” says Rachael Doss, chief development officer of Junior Achievement.
The three-week curriculum culminates in a field trip to Junior Achievement Finance Park, located at the new Thomas Edison High School in Silver Spring. Seventh graders spend three school days here, immersed in interactive, real-world simulations in which they must apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-life scenarios. Finance Park provides both a physical space (a “mini-city” filled with storefronts and kiosks) for students to explore, and a digital interface for them to balance budgets, pay bills, and make important real-life decisions about everything from housing to child care to higher education.
What we want to do in our space is expose students as early as possible to the possibilities of going to college, especially first generation students
“The Junior Achievement Finance Park within Thomas Edison High School provides a phenomenal opportunity for middle school students in Montgomery County to learn important, early lessons about financial literacy and to think about their future, including going to college,” said Steve Simon, a spokesperson for the Universities at Shady Grove. “By having a presence there to showcase MC and USG, we are able to help the students understand the costs associated with going to college and to start thinking early about the fact that there is an excellent and affordable pathway to a four-year degree right here in Montgomery County, by going from MC to USG.”
Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove share a storefront in Finance Park that helps illustrate this pathway. According to David Sears, senior vice president for Advancement and Community Engagement at MC, “What we want to do in our space is expose students as early as possible to the possibilities of going to college, especially first generation students.” Sears cited the potential to reach the 12,000 seventh grade students who will visit Finance Park each academic year.
For Junior Achievement, having Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove sign on to the project equaled a “true partnership,” according to Doss. “We want to create an experience that’s most meaningful to the students, and these two schools are doing incredible things in this region,” said Doss. “They are accessible, they are innovative, and they are aligned with the business community.”
Montgomery College’s portion of the space at Junior Achievement Finance Park was made possible by the Montgomery College Foundation. The creative design of the space was envisioned and executed by MC graphic designer Krista Hanson and Strategic Communications Director Heather Milke.