The Prince George’s County school board hopes an investment made to improve eighth-graders’ financial literacy is worth the cost — about $331,000 a year, to be exact.
On Jan. 10, the board voted 8-1 to approve hosting a “Junior Achievement Finance Park,” a 14,000 square-foot building to be built on the campus of G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover.
Capitol One Bank would pay for the estimated $2.5 million building construction through its philanthropic program while the building would be owned by Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, which would also provide the economics program, said school system spokesman Briant Coleman.
“One of the things we’re looking at is a larger investment in our students in terms of financial literacy, and we think this is a wonderful opportunity for our students,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Alvin Crawley. “We think overall, this is a great investment for our eighth-graders to be able to participate.”
Finance Park construction is expected to begin this summer and completed in 18 to 20 months, Coleman said.
The program will be identical to the one offered at the Finance Park in Fairfax County, Va., said Lateefah Durant, the school system’s academic officer.
The Fairfax Finance Park is utilized by Fairfax County Public School students and by students throughout the region since 2010, Durant said.
“I had the opportunity to visit the Finance Park in Fairfax and I was just blown away,” said board member Carolyn Boston (Dist. 6). “The kids were excited. They were engaged. The instructors were engaged.”
But the Finance Park comes with costs. The school system would be obligated to pay an estimated $331,000 a year for the financial literacy program, including $23 per student for course materials, which comes out to $184,000 for the county’s approximately 8,000 participating students; $75,000 for transportation and $72,000 for utilities and janitorial, according to the Board Action Summary sheet.
Those annual costs would come out of the school system’s general funds, Coleman said.
“We recognize there is a cost and we will continue to look at that, but the overall value of what this will bring to our community, we think, is a step in the right direction,” Crawley said.
Board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) said parents have asked for greater financial literacy and the partnership helps fill that need.
A. Duane Arbogast, PGCPS chief academic officer, said that JAGW’s financial literacy curriculum will be incorporated into eighth-grade social studies and math classes over a six-week period, with the visit to Finance Park taking place in the fourth week.
“When entering Junior Achievement Finance Park, students are assigned fictional jobs, income, families and expenses,” Durant said. “They then make financial decisions concerning housing, transportation, savings, food, entertainment and other choices they will face as they enter adulthood.”
Board member Carletta Fellows (Dist. 7) said she voted against the agreement in part because no outside funding source was identified for the program and questioned how the financial literacy component would be worked into the curriculum.
Financial literacy instruction is a requirement in Maryland public schools, and Arbogast said JAGW’s curriculum, which incorporates both mathematics and social studies portions, helps meet that requirement.
“It’s pretty rare when I see a curriculum that cuts across multiple content areas and I think Junior Achievement has done an excellent job of that,” Arbogast said.