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Sunday, February 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane-area students learn about realities of financial responsibility through Junior Achievement program

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 11, 2019

Garry Middle School eighth-grader Maylea Blackerby looks at her budget during the Junior Achievement of Washington's Finance Park at Shriners Event Center in Spokane on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Garry Middle School eighth-grader Maylea Blackerby looks at her budget during the Junior Achievement of Washington's Finance Park at Shriners Event Center in Spokane on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

For Maylea Blackerby, learning how to budget for monthly expenses on a fixed income was an eye-opening experience.

The Garry Middle School student was a participant Tuesday in Junior Achievement of Washington’s Finance Park, a mobile financial literacy and career readiness program that comes to Spokane twice a year to teach students personal money management skills within a simulated business community.

Blackerby – who assumed a fictional role as a software engineer earning an annual salary of $85,700 and with one child – was surprised at the cost of day care.

“It changes my perspective on how much (our parents) have to pay for us,” she said. “(The program) is really interesting and a good way to learn about expenses and finances.”

The two-week-long mobile finance program, which launched Dec. 2 at Shriners Event Center, is reaching more than 1,300 students from Spokane Public Schools, Davenport High School and Medical Lake Middle School.

The program is made possible through financial and volunteer support from local businesses, mostly financial institutions.

Students complete 13 hours of curriculum at their respective schools before participating in the finance park, where they are assigned fictional adult identities with a career, family, salary, credit score, debt and other financial obligations.

They are asked to create a household budget and make decisions about expenses such as groceries, housing and child care while using iPads to track and analyze their choices.

Students also visit kiosks sponsored by local businesses to learn about credit scores; interest rates; homeownership; various types of auto, health and life insurance; the stock market; how to lower electricity costs; and preparing for unexpected expenses, among other things.

After students finish the budgeting exercise, they are faced with a surprising scenario: They lose their fictional jobs and have to consider how to survive financially while taking care of their families.

Crystal Bodeau, a First Interstate Bank branch manager, said the program fills a gap in financial education that is missing in schools.

“If we can teach them early, we are ahead of the game,” she said.

Only 24% of millennials demonstrate basic financial literacy, according to a study by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Junior Achievement, a national nonprofit organization that aims to provide young people with knowledge and skills to attain economic success, welcomed 600 students from the Spokane region to its mobile finance park in 2015. The program has since grown to reach more than 2,600 annual student attendees from Eastern Washington and Idaho.

“Every year it just gets exponentially larger,” said Jackie Wright, regional director for JA Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho. “Financial literacy is so important for these kids’ futures. We want to empower our youth to make good financial choices.”

Chris Wolf, First Interstate Bank vice president of commercial lending, has been a volunteer for JA’s finance park for six years.

Wolf said the most rewarding aspect of the program is seeing the “aha moments” participants get while learning about budgets.

“I just have a good time seeing the kids enjoying (the program),” she said.

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