After nine months of preparations, the national organization Moneythink has made its Michigan debut at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor.
The group, launched in the wake of the 2008 economic recession, is dedicated to providing a financial education to high school students through college partnerships. Co-presidents Dillon Stuart, a Business sophomore, and Greg Lobel, an LSA sophomore, have been working since April 2014 to bring the organization to the University.
Stuart said one of the program teaches students important financial literacy skills that they might not receive elsewhere.
“We’re teaching them some things that I don’t think you would normally get from any high school curriculum, like how to choose a bank, and what’s important about that,” she said.
Lobel initially contacted the national organization and learned they had been interested in starting a chapter at the University for a while. He then approached Stuart about starting the chapter, and with the help of their adviser, Economics Lecturer Mitchell Dudley, and the national organization, soon the vision became a reality.
Along with a leadership team, the group currently has more than a dozen mentors.
Business sophomore Lauren Dodge, one of the mentors, said the organization gives her opportunities to pursue objectives outside of her academic path.
“I always had a passion for business and I was torn between whether I wanted to go into business or I wanted to go into teaching,” Dodge said. “So when I heard about Moneythink, I realized that it combined both of my passions.”
At Skyline High School, the group mentors a class of seniors in the school’s three-year business magnet program.
Michelle Wargo, a business, marketing and information technology teacher at Skyline, who leads the program, said students have voiced positive feedback about the program so far.
“Financial literacy is really important, and I think wherever they can get that is great,” Wargo said. “And they get the best of both worlds with this program — they get to have mentors in college and they get to bond with them over other things as well, plus learn financial literacy.”
At the beginning of each week, Stuart and Lobel teach mentors curriculum for the upcoming Friday. The national team provides individual lesson topics to help guide each chapter, but there is some flexibility based on student interest, Dodge said.
“We mend the curriculum to keep them engaged and make the topics relatable to their lives,” she said.
Because the Skyline students are enrolled in a business program, most have already had some exposure to financial knowledge and skills, either from their parents or jobs, Stuart said.
“Especially (because) the lessons we’ve had so far have been pretty easy, we want to make sure they’re still engaged and taking it seriously,” Stuart said. “So we’ve been stepping it up a bit, and combining two lessons into one.”
The organization also uses a smartphone application that encourages students to practice the skills they’ve learned outside of the classroom. One week, students were asked to take a picture of their bank. The next, they were asked to take pictures of purchases they spent money and saved money on, and to elaborate on whether or not those were good purchases.
Moneythink uses a point system to incentivize out-of-class participation: each time students do these tasks they earn points, and at the end of the semester the group that has earned the most points will win a prize.
Before Moneythink started at Skyline, its mentors also underwent an orientation that taught them how to serve as effective role models to the high school students, rather than just a friend.
“Moneythink emphasizes the mentor role,” Stuart said. “So, one mentor will have a group of students, and it’s the same mentor going back to the same students every week. This way, they develop a pretty strong relationship.”
Mentors usually work with groups no larger than four students to allow for this relationship to develop.
Stuart said she and Lobel are currently working on reaching out to both Huron and Pioneer High Schools in Ann Arbor to hopefully expand the program.
Their ultimate goal is to have one or two partner schools in Detroit by fall 2016.
“In Ann Arbor, it’s not the first time (the students) are hearing about (financial planning),” Stuart said. “We want to have a good understanding of what we’re doing before we reach out to a school that needs us a bit more.”