St. Mark’s wins Delaware Personal Finance Challenge

On Wednesday, April 18, approximately 60 students from eight high schools statewide gathered in Newark to demonstrate their financial savvy in the tenth annual Delaware Personal Finance Challenge, sponsored by Bank of America and presented by the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) at the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

“Our team at Bank of America is thrilled to help facilitate this year’s competition,” said Connie Montaña, senior vice president and community relations manager at Bank of America.

“Providing financial education to children at a young age is crucial for achieving financial independence as adults,” she continued. “Through the Personal Finance Challenge, we are able to help our students establish the foundation for a financially stable future in a fun and engaging way.”

Teams were invited to attend the Personal Finance Challenge upon passing a preliminary online qualification round. Although teachers may use their choice of resources to prepare for competition, all teams competing in this year’s event used the CEEE’s Keys to Financial Success curriculum.

A joint development effort between the CEEE and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, the personal finance education program is designed to develop the critical-thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills that high school students need “to make sound financial decisions and manage their own personal finances,” according to program literature. Keys to Financial Success has been offered to schools in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania since 2001.

The competition, held at the Executive Banquet and Conference Center in Newark, kicked off with two individual exams and a team exam on a diverse range of financial topics. Students won cash prizes for achieving the highest score for their school in each testing round. Between exams, participants competed in trivia contests.

“The tests were challenging,” said Jade Hopkins, a sophomore who held the highest scores on both individual exam rounds for her William Penn team. “They made me think carefully about the questions and the context I needed to read them in.”

Hopkins added that Keys to Financial Success was an eye-opener on real-life financial concepts such as retirement plans, budgeting and payroll deductions.

Volunteers from Bank of America were on hand to score exams, hand out prizes, and serve as judges for the day’s final event, a quiz bowl challenge between St. Mark’s High School and Archmere Academy, who led the competition after the individual and team testing rounds.

“I love this event,” said John O’Connor, a Bank of America volunteer and UD finance instructor who judged the quiz round. “Financial literacy is huge, and seeing these kids show what they’ve learned is the best part. I just love the whole day.”

The St. Mark’s team, led by economics teacher Will Simpson, won this year’s competition after a strong showing over Archmere in the final quiz challenge. Along with Simpson, William Hoffman, Andrew Koense, Nicholas Kayatta, and David Suddard took home a shared cash prize of $2500. Archmere claimed a shared second-place cash prize of $1250.

“It was a great experience overall,” said Kayatta of the course and competition. “Since I’m going into the finance field, it will serve me greatly now and in the future.” Kayatta will enter UD next fall as an economics major.

Simpson brought Keys to Financial Success to St. Mark’s after teaching the curriculum last year at Smyrna High School.

“It’s a great program,” he said.

“The kids came in with a basic understanding of familiar financial concepts like student loans, but no real experience,” added Simpson. “Teaching them the financial skills they’ll need in real life is the most rewarding aspect of this project.”

Many students start the curriculum with little to no knowledge on personal finance; however, by the end of the course, their progress “is like night and day,” said Kattina Young, a math and personal finance teacher who led one of two teams from Concord High School.

“They’re talking about things that they weren’t before,” Young said. “They’ve started saving, or they’re comparing prices on cars – things they might not have done if they hadn’t taken the course.”

This year’s event also included a pilot case study competition between two teams at Middletown High School, both co-coached by teachers Veronica Marine and Ann Terranova. Students were tasked with analyzing the financial history, income and debt of a hypothetical family and developing a financial plan to help them achieve their stated goals.

Teams developed plans in written and oral presentations and delivered them to a panel of judges. Middletown’s Team B won the competition by a narrow six-point margin. Students Hailey Rohrer, Taylor Toman, Alexis Murphy, and Sean Murphy each received a $100 cash prize along with a team trophy.

Together, the results of the testing tournament and the case competition furthered the joint mission of Bank of America and CEEE: to give students a thorough understanding of fundamental financial concepts.

“Our goal is to have students leave this program with the knowledge and confidence to make smart financial decisions about their future,” said Carlos Asarta, associate professor of economics and director of the CEEE.

“Early financial literacy is important for everyone,” Asarta continued. “Many of our day-to-day decisions involve some kind of personal finance component. It’s important to impart those skills early, so that students know how to manage money in their personal and professional lives.”

Young agreed, noting that students often return to Concord to thank her for equipping them for the real world with basic financial concepts.

“It’s staying with them,” she said. “They’re getting something I never had at my age, and they’ll be better off because they’re starting earlier.”

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