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“Who can tell me what identity theft is?” asked NYU sophomore Aggée Loblack as she stood before a class of rowdy third graders at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy. A sea of hands shot up before her. An eager girl near the front of the room answered with confidence, “Identity theft is when someone tries to steal who you are.”
On Friday afternoons, a time usually set aside for religion, the Financial Empowerment Foundation (FEF) teaches third, fourth, and fifth-grade students about topics like identity theft, saving, credit, and credit worthiness at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy in Bushwick.
FEF, a nonprofit co-founded by Loblack and fellow NYU sophomore Kleinz Samuel, serves to educate marginalized youth on financial literacy and to expose them to careers in finance. Their new program falls in line with the national push for increased financial literacy education, which has gained momentum since the financial crisis of 2008. The purpose of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, created shortly after the crisis by former President George W. Bush, was “to encourage financial literacy among the American people,” and specifically promoted educating youth on finance.
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The Advisory Council established the priority of increasing financial education efforts for both school-age youth and adults in the workplace. These efforts focused on increased access to financial services and establishing measures of national financial literacy. The first of the Council’s recommendations was that “the United States Congress or state legislatures should mandate financial education in all schools for students in grades Kindergarten through 12.” Though financial education hasn’t been mandated by the government, programs like FEF have taken matters into their own hands. “[Children] are the foundation,” Loblack said as she explained the importance of financial literacy for younger students. “We’re not learning about financial skills in this country, and people are really missing out.”
According to The Journal of Consumer Affairs, people with low financial literacy are more likely to have problems with debt and are less likely to accumulate wealth and manage wealth effectively. St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy is located in South Bushwick, an area that displays traits indicative of poor financial decisions.
Nearly 60 percent of the population in South Bushwick is Hispanic or Latino, and more than half of residents are family households. According to the 2010-2014 American Community Survey Profile, the median family income in South Bushwick is $39,301, which is much lower than the median income of New York City as a whole: $58, 368. Additionally, 26.2 percent of families in South Bushwick fall below the poverty line, which is higher than the 17.5 percent of the entirety of New York City.
In addition, according to research done by the NYU Furman Center in 2015, St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy is located in the heart of an area with the most concentrated amount of notices of foreclosure on residential properties in New York City. Located in Kings County, the school falls in the Eastern Circuit of New York Courts. During the 12 month period between Sept. 30, 2015 and 2016, the number of bankruptcies filed in this district increased by 1.6 percent, while the number of bankruptcies filed in each of the other three districts decreased by as much as 8.1 percent.
The idea to start a nonprofit struck Samuel and Loblack as they studied for finals in the fall of their freshman year. During a lull in productivity, Samuel shared that his cousin, applying to colleges and considering majors at the time, was hesitant to pursue a business major because she was never exposed to any relevant courses in high school.
According to Loblack, the two recalled how little they knew about finances and money management when they applied for college, which they attributed a gap in the education system.
“There are so many things I would’ve done differently,” said Loblack after noting that the average college bound student doesn’t know what credit is or how loans or taxes work.
It was then that the two decided to take action and create the nonprofit. They chose the name, mission, and board of directors of FEF, but were unable to proceed further until the chaos of final exams subsided in the spring.
After seeing her students’ need for enrichment, fifth-grade teacher and NYU alumna Augusta Koroma contacted NYU’s Academic Achievement Program and Black Student Union to find organizations that could bring after-school programs to St. Frances Cabrini.
“They need business programs, arts – everything!” said Koroma, and the Financial Empowerment Foundation had just what the students needed.
“Many of the children are first-generation, so they don’t have access to that sort of information,” said Koroma. “A lot of the families are new immigrants that aren’t as accustomed to finances here.”
Though many students acquire financial knowledge through trial and error, research has shown that what they learn may not be enough to make them informed consumers, and that financial literacy education is more effective when taught directly.
FEF obtains their lesson plans and teaching materials like worksheets from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a multinational professional services organization. FEF’s teachers make the information more digestible and engaging for the students by teaching them through games or familiar concepts. For example, credit and credit worthiness are explained as trust and the process of building trust.
“Maybe [financial literacy education] is good for this grade,” mused Gabriella Alestra, the thirdgrade teacher at St. Frances Cabrini, after noting that the children would likely never hear the sort of information FEF provides outside of school. “The majority of the group goes home to share [what they learned] with their parents. They love to share what they’re learning in class,” she added.
“These kids are so engaged and excited about everything,” said Samuel with a laugh. “I can ask them anything and they’ll put their hands up.”
Now that the fall semester is coming to an end, the Financial Empowerment Foundation is working on their next project. Next spring, FEF will partner with Smart Women Securities, a club in NYU’s business school, to workshop with college-bound students in afterschool programs at BronxWorks community centers.