May_05_214_1The New York Daily News

Kids schooled in finances
Tuesday, June 7th, 2005

When it comes to money, Kiyuana Straker, 13, has had a one-word vocabulary: spend.

Every Saturday, she gets a $20 allowance – of which she saves "maybe about a dollar."

Yet, the perky seventh-grader also has been learning about money at Manhattan’s Roberto Clemente Intermediate School. "If I were to get fired from a job … or something," with savings "I’d have the money in the bank to help me support myself," explained Straker, who’s "thought about" becoming a lawyer one day.

Straker is one of about 250 seventh and eighth graders at Roberto Clemente Intermediate School (MS 166) who are currently a part of a personal finance program called Banking on Our Future, provided by Operation HOPE. That offering began again at the Roberto Clemente school the week of May 16.

For one hour per week for four weeks, the program offers instruction in the basics of banking, checking and savings accounts, the power of credit and basic investments.

Operation HOPE expects to bring the program to about 25 to 45 schools city-wide, this year.

Volunteers from Citigroup will be carrying out the instructions at participating Harlem schools, including Roberto Clemente.

Testing of children’s knowledge of finance suggests a little education can go a long way.

In a 2004 survey given by JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, just 34.5% of 4,074 high school seniors passed.

And, based on a closer reading of the survey, Operation HOPE found that "in contrast to young white adults, African-Americans of the same age have lower levels of financial literacy, and the trend is not improving."

Specifically, a mere 13.6% of African-American students passed the JumpStart personal finance test last year, versus 42.2% of white test-takers.

By contrast, children at 27 New York City and Long Island high schools tested on information they learned in a financial literacy program scored considerably higher.

In last year’s financial literacy certification test given by the New York Financial Literacy Coalition (NYFLC) – the New York arm of JumpStart – 73% of the 4,614 test-takers passed.

According to the Financial Literacy Coalition, 71% of the students taking the exam were minorities.

Parents interested in Operation Hope, which focuses its efforts on economically under-served communities, can call (213) 891-2900, or can contact a school principal, who can try to bring in the program.

Parents and teachers can download the lessons at

And at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Queens, where 91% of students passed the NYFLC’s personal finance test last year, some students relate well to the material.

Said Leslie Strauss, Benjamin Cardozo’s assistant principal, social studies: "The students find personal finance very relevant, because they are already getting applications from credit card companies, thinking about buying cars and preparing to go to college."

But, of course, school isn’t the only place to gain money skills.

Estefani Cespedes, 13, who attends Roberto Clemente Middle School, also finds role models at home.

Every month, she sees her mother and uncle checking their bank account statements and keeping on top of their finances.

Soon, the seventh-grader expects to be following them to the bank. "My mom wants me to open a savings account," she explained. "She wants me to save money" rather than "waste it on buying stuff" she says she doesn’t need.

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