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Waco Students Use Spring Break to Learn Financial Skills

As her fellow middle school student puts up Facebook posts about typical spring break activities, seventh-grader Yvette Sanches excitedly told her social circle about all they were missing by not attending a financial literacy boot camp.

That’s right, financial literacy booth camp. Yvette and six other students from Indian Springs Middle School spent the vacation week learning about how banking works, budgeting and a slew of other financial topics. They even developed mock business plans and picthed their ideas for making cash to a panel of judges just like hopeful entrepreneurs on the television show “Shark Tank.”

“It’s really fun,” Yvette said of the camp, which was hosted by NeighborWorks Waco. “It’s not like we expected it to be. A lot of kids (at school) thought it would be boring. That’s why they didn’t sign up. But I keep telling people that it’s fun out on Facebook.”

The camp was an extension of Project ASPIRE, a youth financial literacy program started by NeighborWorks. The nonprofit organization provides a wide range of financial help, such as assisting families in buying their first homes, providing homebuyer and credit counseling and building affordable houses. The program is aimed at giving youths enough financial education to help them steer clear of common money pitfalls in young adulthood. NeighborWorks youth project coordinator Alexandra Hunt said.

The agency sees week after week what harm can come from people not having a clear understanding of financial topics such as credit scores or budgeting, she said.

The project’s main push involves a six-week course Hunt teaches to Indian Spring Middle students during an elective period. It covers basic financial skills, as well as information about topics like the danger of payday loa ns.

Fun learning

Hunt decided to offer a spring break camp as a way to give the students an opportunity to learn more about such topics in a fun way, she said. Camp activities included visiting a local bank, where students got a peek into the vault and saw cash-counting machines.

They also toured Texas State Technical College and heard from community members who spoke on topics like interviewing skills and affordable, healthy eating. “We want them to start thinking about their futures,” Hunt said.

For seventh-grader Maria Briseno, the camp was a fun “staycation,” she said. She and the three other girls who participated hope to actually implement the business plan they developed, she said.

Called Pens-On-The-Way, the idea is to sell school supplies to fellow students who forget theirs at home or lose them during the school day. The girls figure they can turn a tidy profit if they buy pencils and pens in bulk and then sell them at a mark-up.

“Everything is worth more at school,” Maria said with authority as the girls made their “Shark Tank” presentation. “I know a kid who asks me for a pen every day and never returns it.”

Detailed plans

When the panel members — employess at NeighborWorks Waco — quizzed the girls about the details of their plans, they had an answer for just about everything.

When and where would they sell the supplies? Before school and during lunch in common areas such as the gym and cafeteria, they said.

Would students have money to buy the supplies? Maria didn’t hesitate in her answer.

“They have enough money to buy snacks at lunch,” she said matter-of-factly.

The three boys who attended camp also made a solid presentation. Their proposed business was Trash Away, which would involved putting neighbors’ trash at the curb on trash days in exchange for a $5 weekly fee.

Sixth-grader Eliseo Solorio sounded like a pro, starting off the pitch with a list of reason why people would want to hire them. For example, they could sleep in and wouldn’t have to worry about hauling heavy cans, he said.

Things went pretty smoothly until the panel asked the boys how much money they thought they would need to get started. At first, they said $1,000. But after a few more questions about how much it would actually cost them to put up posters and fliers in the neighborhood, Eliseo quickly reversed course.

“How about $50?” he said with a grin.

NeighborWorks hopes to hold a similar camp this summer, Hunt said. Next year, it would like to expand Project ASPIRE into other middle schools and local high schools, she said.

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