Stories of Impact, Part 1: Empowering Low-Income Students to Plan for a Better Future

Post by: HSFPP

This year we received 171 applications for 10 scholarships to the Jump$tart National Educator Conference. HSFPP educators shared stories that shine a light on the lifelong impact financial education can have for teens. Narrowing the entries down to our top 10 was incredibly difficult — at least half of the applications were considered top contenders. Thank you to all the educators who submitted their stories, and to all financial education instructors who work hard to empower students with skills to take charge of their futures.

This blog is part 1 of our series featuring stories from our scholarship winners. These educators have found that financial education is a powerful tool to show students the possibilities beyond their current life circumstances. Many of these stories illuminate how financial education helps students change their perceptions of their own potential and possibilities. 

Stories in This Blog

  • Empowering Students to See Their Potential Beyond Their Current Reality - Chris Brida
  • Planning for a Better Life - Kristy Nickolisen
  • Moving Beyond Generational Poverty - Pandora Fifer
  • Encouraging Students to Explore Small Business Opportunities - Georgeanna Jarvis
  • Helping Students Learn How to Make A One-Time Windfall Last - Gracie Briones

  • Empowering Students to See Their Potential Beyond Their Current Reality


    hen a student grows up in a poor neighborhood, financial literacy is the furthest thing from their mind. They generally are just trying to survive every day. The reason I started the financial literacy program as part of my business class was to create a wide range of “aha” moments. Enough “aha” moments develop a critical mass of students understanding financial literacy so that they can bring it back to their neighborhoods. … Teaching financial literacy to high school students in Baltimore is not just so they can be financially savvy — it’s to arm them with information that will change their communities.

    … For me, there is one moment that stands out above them all. I was teaching a lesson on earning power and students were researching various cities they could move to. The moment when a student got it was when she said, "So, you mean I could actually leave Baltimore?" It's such a simple question with an incredibly powerful meaning behind it — the reality for many of my students is that they feel stuck. Their parents are from here, their grandparents are from here and none of them have ever left.

    The student was completing the "Tale of 2 Cities" task and was comparing cities in California to Baltimore. "Getting it" is understanding that you aren't defined by the zip code you grow up in. Instead, understanding financial literacy is a way for my students to see that there is a world beyond our city, and they have the potential to live in that world.


    Christopher Brida
    High School Business Teacher, Baltimore, Md.

    Planning for a Better Life


    n our school, we have 67% of our students considered low SES (free and reduced lunch qualifiers), so their families do not have a lot of money.  In the lessons on planning for your future I had a student stay after class and tell me that he wants a better future for himself than what his family is living right now.  He told me that some weeks they have no money for food and he hardly ever gets new clothes.  Unfortunately, I learned his Dad went to jail and he would be living in a foster care situation for a while.  He would like to break the cycle of generational poverty that his family is living in.  

    He did really well on setting goals for himself, including looking for a job, which he got at McDonalds.  He is trying to save money from every paycheck and is going to apply for our Pottawattamie Promise Scholarship that students of low-income families, who are first generation college students, can apply for.  I hope he gets it!  I felt pleased that he recognized the fact that he wants to have a better life for himself and realizes he has the potential to get that for himself!


    Kristy Nickolisen
    High School Business Teacher, Council Bluffs, Iowa

    Moving Beyond Generational Poverty


    ast year a student who I hadn't seen for a while showed up at my classroom door.  This was a rough and tumble kid who had survived a tumultuous upbringing; moving from month to month, sleeping on friends' sofas, and visiting the food bank each week.  I was so happy to see him … when he greeted me he said, "It's because of you that I am where I am today."

    With my student population, which is strictly inner city kids, I always stress the importance of financial planning, banking and savings because most of these students come from generational poverty in families where they live paycheck to paycheck. This student told me that he had a job as a restaurant manager, had just signed his first apartment lease in his own name, and because of what I had taught him, had a savings and checking account, and was looking forward to settling down with his fiancé to begin their life.   For the first time in his life he felt financially secure.  His words to me as he gave me a huge hug were, "You never gave up on me."


    Pandora Fifer
    Alternative Center Business, Lead Mentor Teacher, Norfolk, Va.

    Encouraging Students to Explore Small Business Opportunities


    s a middle school teacher in a low socioeconomic area, I think it is so important for students to understand how financial literacy will affect their entire lives.  During a lesson I was teaching about savings I had a student who kept asking questions.  She told me how an allowance was not received in her family; she still wanted to save, but was unsure how.  I explained to her how she could start a small business in her neighborhood walking dogs, mowing lawns, babysitting, having a yard sale, or just offering help to people who were in need.

    As the lesson went on, she just kept listening and I could see that she was really thinking about how this could work.  So the next day she came into class, you could see the excitement on her face when the idea was shared with me.  After school she had gone home and made a list of things that could be done to make extra money.

    Once it was in writing, the decision was made that a dog walking service would be perfect.  Posters were made and hung in the neighborhood and news was spread with friends and family.  As the weeks went by I asked how it was going; it was slow, but one family had signed up.  During the semester several families were on board and money was being saved.

    It really touched me that the message was received and the lesson about saving in class was put into action.  A goal was set and achieved by that hard work.  I love seeing my students excel, become better educated and grow.  It is the reason why I teach.


    Georgeanna Jarvis
    Middle School Family Consumer Science Teacher, Lexington, Ky.

    Helping Students Learn How to Make A One-Time Windfall Last


    have been teaching the NEFE High School Planning Program to Native American students in an alternative high school. … Students in this Native community receive large trust funds at the age of 18, and most have thoughts that the sum they receive will last forever.

    In one particular class, discussing taxes and how much has to be paid on the sums they will receive was a real shocker for a couple of particular students.  They considered putting money aside to assure they understood tax implications and the importance of a spending plan to be able to do this, as well as to make the money last.  They eye opener was also on how much they could have if they just saved a small portion by the time retirement rolled around.  I really enjoyed seeing the students' faces when the lightbulb turned on.


    Gracie Briones
    Financial Education Training Coordinator, Scottsdale, Ariz.

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