BROKEN HEARTHS: Financial lessons come to the classroom

Junior Achievement program teaches money-management skills

ebazar@usc.eduSeptember 18, 2010 

Taryn Kalman has a baby-sitting clientele of 51 children but still found time to line up $11,000 in scholarships for her first year at Cal Poly.

Yet even this financially savvy 18-year-old was surprised when she learned about the various kinds of insurance she’d need over her lifetime, from health to home.

“I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I thought there was only car insurance,’ ” said the recent San Luis Obispo High School graduate.

Taryn learned about insurance, how to budget and save, the difference between good and bad credit and how to avoid identity theft in the nonprofit Junior Achievement program that offers hands-on financial lessons to students in some area schools.

The program, which has been offered here for 15 years, aims to teach young people how to manage their money and avoid financial mistakes, a concept that carries extra weight during tough economic times.

Taryn, whose parents work in the hard-hit real estate and construction industries, got it.

“If I can’t afford it right now, I’m not buying it until I have the money to afford it,” she said. “I totally learned that in Junior Achievement.”

The program, presented in five sessions over five weeks, is taught by local volunteers, such as executives from area banks.

Last year, about 1,000 students took the sessions at four area schools: Harloe and Ocean View elementary schools in Arroyo Grande, Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo High School.

“We’re teaching kids the difference between a need and a want. You don’t need rollerblades, you don’t need to go to the movies,” said Amanda Sattler, executive vice president of Junior Achievement of Southern California. “It’s a financial boot camp. It’s all of those things most of us learned the hard way.”

Lessons range: Kindergarteners learn how to distinguish nickels from quarters, and high school seniors are warned of the pitfalls of credit cards.

Seniors in Michael Lee’s economics classes at San Luis Obispo High took the Junior Achievement program last year. Lee said he wishes he had the same opportunity when he was a student there in the late 1960s.

“We all know that if you make bad decisions, such as using credit unwisely, you could suffer from that for a dozen years, 20 years,” Lee said. “We need to help people make better decisions in order to hopefully not climb into a deep, dark hole like a lot of us have fallen into.”

Find out more

Junior Achievement offers this website to help teens manage their money: http://studentcenter.ja.org/Pages/default.aspx.

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