LIVINGSTON, NJ - Livingston High School students recently helped 15 middle-school students at Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City master financial literacy knowledge and skills through an innovative student-created program. The series inspired students like Kevin Mohamed to believe that the nation’s youth “can and need to know about saving and investing and money management.”

Between July 14 and July 30, high school students involved in the student-led Teaching Investment and Money Management Initiative (TIMMI), advised by Livingston teacher Michelle Winter, taught a four-session series that focused on topics that included Budgeting, Credit, Debt, and Investing.

“These topics would ordinarily be covered in a personal financial literacy class at school, but students in New Jersey are only required to take that class near the end of high school,” said Adam Chang, one of the organization’s directors. “We think that learning basic money skills in senior year is too late, so we brought it to middle-schoolers.”

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The student-instructors taught from a curriculum they created themselves, which Chand believes is more fun, interactive, and inclusive than something students might expect to experience at school. Chang taught alongside fellow LHS students Dev Thakkar, Paul Yang and Jacob Kaltman, who are on a mission to make sure all kinds of students are exposed to money management—especially ones who may not learn such a thing in school or at home.

According to Christina Cuppari, TIMMI’s Assistant Director of Teaching, charter schools are more innovative and less traditional, making it easier for an original program like TIMMI to step foot into the school. Cuppari said schools like LCCS encourage things like interactive and technological learning, which fits with TIMMI’s curriculum.

The middle-school students were part of LCCS’s summer enrichment program, which offers S.T.R.E.A.M. classes that focus on developing science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math skills. The collaboration between the two programs began after TIMMI reached out to LCCS Principal Colin Hogan, who saw that TIMMI could nicely complement a “financial math” class offered in LCCS’s summer program.

“I loved TIMMI and [the high-school teachers],” said middle-school student Modesty Griffith, who agreed that “this kind of [information] is really important for our futures.” Hogan called the program a “perfect match” for LCCS’s program and its students.

In TIMMI’s summer sessions, the curriculum focused on things like budgeting and the decision-making process among many other topics. According to Thakkar, the team’s Director of Global Services, they ran through everyday examples of making decisions while students worked cooperatively in groups on case scenarios. In an example of a lesson, Thakkar said opportunity cost was introduced through a demonstration involving two students: one staying home to play video games and another working to earn money, causing all the students to laugh when one was rewarded and the other wasn't.

After decision making, the student-instructors taught budgeting with activities that included more group case scenarios and class discussion. Finally, they demonstrated the importance of emergency funds by having students act out scenarios where emergency funds would be useful (for example, losing his or her job).

“These skits were hilarious, and everyone, including the LCCS teachers and all of us, were in stitches,” said Thakkar. “At the end of the session, we played through a review Kahoot, which is an interactive quiz game students at LCCS used for the first time and which the LCCS teachers were very interested in using later on.”

According to TIMMI’s Research Director Paul Yang, the students’ proficiency in financial literacy markedly improved by the time the middle-school students completed their post-tests. When TIMMI took to Heritage Middle School in the spring, they saw similar results.

Now, TIMMI is reaching out to many charter schools in the area similar to LCCS hoping for an opportunity to continue their mission. According to Chang, the team is also looking to collaborate with a non-profit that helps women in developing areas worldwide by introducing financial literacy its their program.

“This experience motivates us to continue reaching out to schools around New Jersey,” said Chang. “Especially charter schools in less wealthy areas because of what Christina said.”

Cuppari said that TIMMI values diversity in the groups of students taught because the team believes the “American Dream” is achievable for everyone. According to Yang, the TIMMI post-tests, where students' answers to "why money management is important" included being able to achieve these dreams, show the American dream is no longer worlds out of reach for these students, but rather a goal to strive for.

“When we asked what students' ideas of the American Dream were, answers included ‘owning an expensive car’ and ‘a mansion in Beverly Hills,’” said Yang. “Given the limitations of today’s economy, there seems to be no way of achieving these dreams.”

According to Yang, TIMMI helps students recognize the importance of financial responsibility in working towards these dreams, especially in saving and investing money wisely. Examples Yang shared included showing how expensive it is to buy a house or pay for college and later showing how compound interest makes investments grow.

“This was such a successful and amazing opportunity,” said Thakkar. “Not only was it so rewarding to work with fifteen enthusiastic students, but I also think bringing back the American Dream is one of the most important things we can do.”