Change 4a Dollar Teaches Much-needed Money Skills

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Change 4a Dollar offers a summer camp as well as after-school programs in seven Philadelphia schools. The organization was founded by Curtis Singleton, who wanted to bring skills in money management to children in the neighborhood where he grew up.

Change 4a Dollar

Change 4a Dollar offers a summer camp as well as after-school programs in seven Philadelphia schools. The organization was founded by Curtis Singleton, who wanted to bring skills in money management to children in the neighborhood where he grew up.

Young people have a lot to learn about managing money. More than half of high school seniors failed a financial literacy test given in 2008 by the JumpStart Coalition, an organization advocating financial education. And only 17 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance, according to the Council for Economic Education.

Curtis Singleton knows firsthand the problems that can come from lack of knowledge about money. By age 28, when he was a junior at Philadelphia’s Pierce College, he had amassed $60,000 in student loans. He also had a mortgage and a car loan.

He didn’t realize the consequences of this much debt, he said, until he took college courses that year in business administration and finance.

Young people need to learn about money sooner, he realized.

“What if students learned about compound interest in the fourth grade?” he thought. “What if they learned in elementary school how student loans worked?”

To teach them, he founded the nonprofit Change 4a Dollar.

He focused on kids in his North Philadelphia neighborhood. “I realized how much children in my neighborhood did not know,” he said.

[Related: Child Well-Being a Mixed-Bag in Still-Rocky Economic Climate, Says Casey Report]

Change 4a Dollar has after-school programs in seven Philadelphia schools and a summer program serving 240 kids ages 4 to 14. In summer camp, the kids swim, play basketball and take part in traditional camp activities. But about one-fifth of their time is spent learning about bank accounts, compound interest, credit cards and more.

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When Singleton was growing up, many of his friends had parents who strongly encouraged them to get a college degree. But many of those same friends were unable to find jobs after college, he said. For that reason, Change 4a Dollar also focuses on entrepreneurship.

Singleton partnered with Junior Achievement to provide the curriculum. Campers are divided into three age groups, with the middle-schoolers getting lessons in entrepreneurship.

Business people come to speak to the kids, and the kids “think about the businesses they want to start,” Singleton said.

Change 4a Dollar is just beginning to gather data to assess the impact of the program, he said.

Ellen O’Connell is managing director of programs for the Partnership for After School Education, which promotes and supports the quality of after-school education.

“I think [financial literacy] is super important,” she said. “You could say it’s a social justice issue.”

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White youth have more knowledge about finances that African-American and Latino youth, according to the JumpStart survey.

“There’s a huge value” to educating kids about money, O’Connell said.

“The biggest issue [among out-of-school time groups] is carving out the time,” she said. Organizations have many other things on the agenda, she said.

The lack of attention to financial education is not for lack of material, she said. Partnership for After School Education (PASE) offers a list of resources as well as training for after-school professionals so they can teach young people about money.

The organization also has offered a professional development course for youth workers ages 18 to 24 called Dollar and Sense, a three-session curriculum that goes with their “Young Adult Guide to Saving and Investing for Retirement” that focuses on financial planning.

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