(Left to right) Magnolia Science Academy 7 students Katherine Diaz (fifth), Natalia Rodriguez (third), Elise Pocasangre (third), Fernando Lopez Fonseca (third) and Ivan Reina (fourth) in the first day of the Financial Literacy Club, which is taught by teacher Alex Melloy (center). (Photo Courtesy of Joe Macias)

Historically school systems around the country have taught numerous courses except the one that all students will need — personal finance and how to manage money. Because the topic of money isn’t considered academic and schools are slow to change, students graduate not knowing how to balance a checkbook.  

We’re all barraged every day with advertisements encouraging us to purchase but we’re not equally encouraged to take care when spending and can easily get into financial trouble. 

Magnolia Science Academy 7 (MSA-7), a public charter elementary school in Northridge, is taking a step to change this big void by offering financial literacy workshops not only for students but for their parents and staff too.

The workshops are not formally part of the school curriculum but aim to help families, many in their school community who are economically disadvantaged, to find resources to assist them in learning about ways to become more financially stable.

The academy is a transitional kindergarten to fifth grade elementary school that offers two separate workshop programs: one for adults and the other for students. The workshop program for adults began on Wednesday, April 12, and will be hosted once a month either in person or through Zoom. It’s open to any adult who wishes to join and is available for free in both English and Spanish.

Students are offered financial information by joining an extracurricular Financial Literacy Club that is held every Tuesday and Thursday after school. Right now the club is primarily made up of students between third and fifth grade.

The academy is partnering with the World Financial Group, a life insurance and investment firm, to lead the workshops.

Families Hit Hard by COVID-19

The school decided to start offering these programs in response to a survey of families and staff, which found that families have been deeply affected by economic repercussions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — in addition to rising inflation and housing displacement — needed financial literacy support.

“In the last three years, we’ve had 36 families move out of the area because of lack of housing affordability, almost 80 percent of our students are on the federal free and reduced lunch program and some of our families are newcomers, refugees and recent arrivals from Guatemala, Mexico and even Ukraine,” MSA-7 Principal Meagan Wittek said.

“We have to think outside the box — think beyond the whole child and instead provide support to the whole family so that the child can succeed.”

Cecilia Macias, the community school coordinator at MSA-7, said the main goal of the program is to make the school a “community school.”

“What does a community school mean? Our school can work sort of as a hub for the community, not just our students and families, for them to come to our school and get the resources they need,” Macias said.

“It’s further than just academics, but things such as mental health support … our job is to bring those resources on to the campus or provide the resources to families by means of introducing them to the partnerships that we have at our school.”

School Staff Also Needs Financial Information 

Macias also explained that the programs are open to faculty as well, as some expressed concerns over paying back their student loans and saving money to buy a house.

“These workshops are not just for parents and families of our school, but they’re also for our staff members, their families and the Northridge community and the surrounding area as well,” she said.

Students who join the club will be taught how money works through simulations — which include receiving a salary and being able to afford rent — and create achievable financial goals for adulthood. The club is being taught by second grade MSA-7 teacher Alex Melloy.

“I was well into adulthood when I learned how to properly handle credit, loans, investments, etc., and I’m still learning in my 30s,” Melloy said. “We offer students an advantage when they’re headed to middle and high school, already having been exposed to financial literacy.”

Macias added, “It’s nice to see them at such a young age understand some of these concepts that weren’t introduced for me, personally, until I was an adult. I didn’t understand how credit cards worked until I got my first one. And I think it’s great that they’re starting to understand these concepts.”

The school will evaluate the program before it decides if it wants to expand it for the next school year, and consider whether to add another club for the younger grades.

“We do want to empower families and help them start understanding money and possibly how to save [and] how to invest so we don’t lose any more families [to housing displacement] … so they can stay here and benefit from all the resources that we can provide them,” Macias said.