The School of Business and Junior Achievement are providing finance-literacy lessons to area grade-schoolers, giving UAB students an opportunity to better understand economic and financial principles.

UAB freshman students Zach Stoltzner (left) and Adam Arnold teach students basic economic principles at Epic School.

Dollars and Sense is a first-year Freshman Learning Community (FLC) course. UAB students visit Epic and Glen Iris elementary schools to teach five 45-minute lessons during the fall semester. The topics cover basic business and economic principles, including balancing a checkbook, using an ATM card, urban zoning, reading blueprints and building a city.

“This is a fantastic way of empowering young people,” says Norma-May Isakow, director of the Office of Service Learning. “The program ensures that UAB students understand basic concepts in economics and business, and helps young people in our community understand finances, how a city works and how banking works.”

The FLC is the first for the School of Business, says Stephanie Rauterkus, Ph.D., assistant professor of finance and instructor for the course. Rauterkus says the FLC is a service-learning opportunity for students that comprises 15 percent of their grade.

Junior Achievement, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs, provides the curriculum for this program and the training to UAB students.

Rauterkus says the partnership has been so successful it will continue next fall.

“Junior Achievement asked if they could continue to partner with us and apply for grant funding,” Rauterkus says. “We’ve committed to a long-term relationship with them because this has gone so well. It’s been better than I could have imagined.”

Getting the big picture
Rauterkus has been surprised that her students have become so engaged in teaching the elementary students. Some looks of concern were evident on the faces of her students when she first mentioned the service-learning component. After all, how does talking to an 8-year-old about business concepts help them?

Rauterkus explained the benefits and positives from the opportunity the students were being given. Still, she says, they had to buy in – and they did.

“Our students really are getting the big picture of this service-learning opportunity as it relates to their own studies,” Rauterkus says. “Explaining these economics fundamentals helps reinforce the upper-level concepts we’re learning in the classroom: what’s going on with the economy, how bad decisions by lenders have lead to a foreclosure crisis, how bad decisions by individual investors and homeowners have led to additional problems. They get that an understanding of the fundamentals is important to everyone because bad decisions snowball into bigger issues.”

Adam Arnold, a freshman pre-business major from Hoover, says the experience has helped him in several ways.

“It’s a good way to reiterate topics we’ve covered or should already grasp,” Arnold says. “If you can break these concepts down so a third-grader can understand, it shows you know the material pretty well. Plus, I’m taking public speaking, and this is helping me be more comfortable speaking in front of a group. I know they’re kids, but they are always going to ask you a question.”

And those questions can be creative. After all, what do all those lines on the blueprints mean?

“One day they were doing scales of blueprints, trying to understand how 1 inch equals 10 feet,” Arnold says. “I drew some boxes on the board and just tried to break it down for them, and it helped him understand it more. You’ve got to be creative and break it down so they can understand it.

Arnold says he is profiting from the opportunity to teach these courses. “I certainly don’t think doing this is a waste of time,” Arnold says. “I think it’s benefiting me, and I think it’s benefiting the kids, too. They enjoy it as much as we do.”

Rauterkus also has mid-semester evaluations coming in to her from teachers at Glen Iris and Epic praising the students’ work.

“The teachers all have commented on how wonderful our students are doing,” she says.

“Not only have they gotten great economic lessons taught by our students, but their students have gotten role models. Neither side could have asked for a better partnership.”