Northern FBLA continues to focus on financial literacy

…the students work with End Hunger in Calvert County, helping clients complete their 2011 tax returns.

Since 2006, a primary focus with Northern High School’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) program has been the importance of financial literacy. Students in the FBLA program have taught students of all ages at other schools basic financial literacy skills, testified at important legislative hearings concerning financial literacy at high schools, met with the Calvert County Public Schools superintendent, worked with the Maryland Coalition for Financial Literacy and partnered with Bank of America to focus on this ever-growing important topic, according to a press release.
During the summer of 2011, three students from NHS FBLA met with Lynne Gillis, business teacher at Huntingtown High School. Gillis started a partnership with the United Way during the 2010-2011 school year to teach “underbanked” adults basic financial literacy skills. Gillis and her students taught five adult students from Austria, China and Thailand who had relocated to Calvert County during last school year and had such a great success that they held a second class for these students titled Computer Literacy 101. Gillis and her business students used the FDIC Money Smart program to cover such topics as basic banking principles, credit, financial recovery and bank accounts during their six-week course. After having much success with this program, they turned their efforts over to the students of Northern High School FBLA to continue these courses and possibly expand on other topics.
The initial part of the project was to continue these exact classes for the northern part of Calvert County. They worked hard, planning and advertising these classes, and sent more than 500 fliers to the United Way, its partnering agencies, as well as the local food pantries in search of adult students. They had two sets of courses planned — the first was Budgeting and Goal Setting, the second was Banking 101. Unfortunately, a very small number of students signed up for their courses, who later would have to cancel due to personal conflicts and schedules. Instead of giving up, the night their first class was supposed to take place, they thought about how to continue this project, not only for their own personal growth, but also for the success of the FBLA project.
Brittania Howard, Brandi Constantino and Brent Canter, all three of whom are officers of this year’s FBLA officer team, as well as this year’s coordinators for their chapter’s American Enterprise Project, decided to teach these classes to their fellow FBLA members, many of which are not enrolled in business courses. The purpose of the Maryland and national FBLA American Enterprise Project is to promote some facet of the American Enterprise System. They had great success with their classes, which they held during the one-hour lunch at Northern High School from Oct. 19 to Nov. 16. More than 30 students finished the classes and received a certificate of financial literacy. The courses material came from the FDIC Money Smart program given to them by Gillis, along with material from FEFE (Family Economics and Financial Education). The courses were so successful that they started a new section of courses, which started with an investment and stock lesson given by former FBLA NHS officer, Justin Ruest, on Friday, Feb. 17. Ruest, a former NHS FBLA officer and Maryland FBLA state president, is now a financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments in Prince Frederick. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Steve Kensinger from Old Line Bank visited with the FBLA members during their one-hour lunch to teach the students about identity theft and fraud. Kensinger is a regional vice president in charge of the southern Prince George’s and Charles County branches. Other topics the second set of courses will cover include fraud, stocks, bankruptcy, houses/mortgages, credit reports, insurance, loans, taxes, budgeting and retirement. These classes will conclude the end of March. Nancy Cohen, FBLA advisor, gave credit to Britty, Brent, and Brandi for planning and executing all of these courses completely on their own.
“I haven’t done a thing,” Cohen said in the press release. “I have given them some class time to plan their courses, make the necessary paperwork and presentations and develop the topics they felt were most important. I usually did not know what they were teaching until the day they taught it. It’s been so exciting to see these students showcase what they have learned in their business courses. That is true education in my opinion. I sat in on all of the classes and was so impressed with their creativity, preparation and excitement. The proof that they were successful is that the students want to give up their lunch shifts to take more classes. I am very proud of how hard these three officers have worked. They are truly the best of the best.”
While continuing to work with the United Way and attending their board meetings, it was proposed that the students work with End Hunger in Calvert County, helping clients complete their 2011 tax returns. Students have been trained on the Calvert Cash website and have already started attending the free tax-prep sessions, sponsored by End Hunger. The three coordinators have included other business students in this aspect of the project. Other students who have completed a business program called the Academy of Finance are also helping at these tax-prep sessions. Students are helping clients with their 1040EZ and federal forms, explaining their credit reports, helping them find possible tax deductions they may not have been aware of, helping them with the Calvert Cash website, educating them on how to improve their credit scores, and helping them determine how to best save or spend their tax returns.
Constantino, one of the coordinators, said in the press release, “It’s been a great opportunity for us all to learn more about filing our own taxes since soon, when we’re financially independent, we’ll want to be able to receive the maximum return possible, much like we’re helping individuals in our county to do. Expanding our help, in addition to assisting with the tax filing, we plan to make an information sheet stating the best ways for the people to utilize their tax return, whether it be to pay off a debt or to save it for emergency use; this way, they’re learning a little bit more about planning better financially and not wasting their money on things that aren’t a necessity.”
Howard, another coordinator, said in the release, “Leading this project, completely dedicated to educating our ‘underbanked’ community on the fundamentals of developing financial stability, has brought light to a very urgent and growing issue. I feel extremely privileged to be a part of this project, where we have identified a community problem and strived to resolve it. Our primary goal is to teach individuals how to manage their money, then for them to apply that knowledge within the community.”
Northern High School FBLA will be submitting a 30-page report and are in the midst of preparing a seven-minute presentation to conclude this project as part of a state competition. Their goal, while helping citizens and students of Calvert County improve their financial education, is to rank first in the state of Maryland and take this competition to the national level this summer in San Antonio, Texas. The following individuals contributed to this year’s project: at Northern High, Howard, Constantino, Canter and Gillis; Jennifer Moreland, United Way director of Community Impact; Robin Brungard, End Hunger in Calvert County program director; Mary LaBorie, End Hunger volunteer and coordinator; all Calvert County Food Pantry volunteers and staff; Pam Howard, parent advocate; Sylvia Lawson, NHS principal; Larry Butler, NHS vice principal; the Calvert County Board of Education; Deborah Pulley; Robin Welsh; and the FBLA members at Northern High School who both took the courses and are teaching the tax-prep classes.