Standing in front of a roomful of students, Randy Kunkle is back at the school where he spent his kindergarten days.
The regional community reinvestment officer at M&T Bank has gotten a lot taller and picked up a few bits of wisdom about money since his time at R. Elisabeth MacClary Elementary in Newark. That’s why he’s here: To share insights on finances with third-grade students as part of the annual Teach Children to Save Day.
Kunkle reads the children a tale from a comic book written by Greg Koseluk of the Delaware Bankers’ Association. It’s part of a series featuring magician the Great Investo, whose money skills could use some refinement. He gets advice from his common-sense assistant Penny as they take the children on educational journeys through topics like how money in banks benefits the community and how they can save for personal goals.
There are “Wows” and laughter from the students as the Great Investo accidentally makes a giant but useless dollar bill in an ill-conceived get-rich-quick scheme, and they helpfully chip in screeching sound effects for car tires when the scene calls for it. After the session, they wave their hands for the chance to answer Kunkle’s questions.
Every year in April, volunteer bankers fan out to schools around the state. This year, 200 third- and fourth-grade classroom teachers registered with nearly 5,000 students participating.
The series of visits that spread out over the course of one week allow the volunteers from 25 area banks to visit multiple schools. Teach Children to Save Day is a partnership between the University of Delaware’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) at the Lerner College of Business and Economics and the Delaware Financial Education Alliance. It’s an offshoot of a larger national effort through the American Bankers Association.
As is tradition, Gov. John Carney signed a proclamation April 25 proclaiming Teach Children to Save Week in Delaware, joined by state Treasurer Colleen Davis. The General Assembly also celebrated the event’s 25th anniversary with a special proclamation.
Teacher Lisa Lemmon says when the district sent out the email about participating, “I immediately signed up because I knew I wanted to take advantage of it.”
Lemmon’s goal as a teacher is to have well-rounded students. Her take is that when someone new comes in to present in the classroom, it opens up a whole world of questioning, and you never know what that will lead to.
“They hold onto these memories, they really do,” Lemmon says.
“I think economics is one of those things that kids need to start (learning) at a young age,” she says. “… Financial responsibility is imperative in our society, work ethics (are) imperative in our society, and I think if we don’t teach it and we don’t focus on it at school, it’s not always going to be addressed, necessarily, in the home.”
Her students have plenty of questions for Kunkle. They are particularly interested in how much money he makes — he sidesteps that one, informing them he earns more than $15.
When responding to the question “What is interest?” a student guesses, “It’s when you like money?” When Kunkle explains the concept, one boy asks, “So if that happens, you’re technically getting free money?”
The youngsters come up with a range of ideas for items they could save for in the short term, from a bunny to a trip around the world. Prompted to ponder their adult future, they suggest saving for a car or a house. One far-seeing child mentions retirement.
The event has been running long enough that some of the children’s parents may have taken part. Bonnie Meszaros, associate director of UD’s CEEE, helped develop the program 25 years ago.
Back then, she says, “Not much attention was given to the importance of saving with young children in the schools.” In consultation with members of the Delaware Bankers Association, Meszaros reviewed the national program. She felt they could improve the curriculum, so they developed their own.
“I thought it was really important that we help students understand why they should save (and) the idea of compound interest,” she says. “… We know they have interest in money at a young age.”
She wanted to communicate the ethic of saving, starting with a little and growing it over time, which makes a difference for future financial stability, Meszaros says.
At the same time, the event also makes teachers aware of the many professional development opportunities and instructional materials CEEE offers.
“It’s not just this one-day event, we have lots of wonderful lessons that you can use in your classroom to take this a step further with the students,” she says.
CEEE also has a Bank at School Program that allows children to earn a small amount of interest during the year. “It’s really about that whole habit to get kids into the idea of saving,” Meszaros said.
Kunkle says volunteering to work with kids for this day is popular at M&T bank, where 45 volunteers stepped up this year, the most of any participating bank. He’s volunteered to go to schools for the event for about 15 years now.
He tries to educate people of all ages about financial basics. “I didn’t have parents who talked to me much about it,” he says. “I probably learned the hard way, as a young adult, the issues of getting a credit card and not balancing your checkbook.” That’s often the case in families, he thinks, and notes that not all Delaware school districts have added financial literacy courses.
He’s seen more awareness of the basics among students over the years — when he asks students in third and fourth grade how many of them have a bank account, he sees more hands than he used to.
“If we help one child understand (how money moves through the economy), it’s one more child than knew about it yesterday,” Kunkle says.
Looking back at the way the program has grown, Meszaros says, “It’s very satisfying to know that you’ve created something that teachers and bankers continue to find valuable for students.”
The Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship aims to promote financial literacy so that Delaware schoolchildren can learn the economic skills they need to thrive. Many CEEE programs that support this vision are possible, in part, because of a recent generous gift from UD alumni Robert Siegfried, Jr., C.P.A., BE81, and Kathleen Siegfried, AS85. The Siegfrieds are long-time supporters of entrepreneurial and leadership-focused initiatives at the University.