What’s the difference between a debit card and a credit card? Every seventh-grade student who attends public school should now know the answer to that question, thanks to a program titled “Economics for Success,” sponsored by Junior Achievement Virgin Islands.
On St. Thomas and St. Croix, the program has been implemented over the past two months in weekly one-hour sessions, but on St. John, volunteer instructors tried a new approach – devoting an entire school day to learning the fundamentals of money management.
Volunteers from the private and public sectors presented the program to seventh-graders at the Julius E. Sprauve School on March 27 and the following week to 7th and 8th grade students at the Gifft Hill School – the only private school participating this year.
Six hours on money management might sound like a tough sell, but it’s not, according to Denelle Baptiste, who took over as executive director of JAVI in January. That’s because the content of the program is cleverly embedded in a series of games to make learning about budgeting, saving, credit and insurance both interactive and engaging.
For example, after a quick introduction on the topic of insurance, each student is given a bingo card with various types of insurance – such as dental, health, car, and phone – listed on some cards, but not others. Then the caller presents a number of scenarios.
“You’re playing basketball when the ball bounces off the rim and smashes your car’s windshield; do you have homeowner’s insurance?” Or, “At bedtime, you skip brushing your teeth, and now you have two cavities. Do you have dental insurance?”
At the Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John, the game led to comments like, “Insurance is very important because you never know when something is going to happen,” and questions like, “Can you get pet insurance?” And to one disappointed student, it also led to the lesson, “You can’t win every game.”
Junior Achievement was initially incorporated in the Virgin Islands in 1993. It has been through several incarnations since then, rebounding in 2009 by partnering with the Department of Education to offer programs at all grade levels at various times.
After Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, Baptiste said, “We were in a little bit of a predicament because of a shortage of materials. Our goal is to be in all of the high schools next year. We’re trying to branch out to the private schools as well.”
Because of limited materials, the popular high school program which encourages teams of students to build a business is only being offered in one high school this year.
In past years, students were taught to create, develop, and market a product. They do the design work, sell shares, and manage the accounting.
On one product – a book of Caribbean recipes with stories included – the return on a $2 share was nearly $50.
“The book is still being sold,” Baptiste said.
Other successful products include fashionable, recyclable tote bags, bush teas, and the conversion of empty rum bottles into drinking glasses.
The winning team has gone on to present its product in an international competition.
“Junior Achievement Worldwide works in over 119 countries with over 8 million students, to change the way our next generation of leaders looks at their role in the world,” JAVI’s website states.
“JAVI is a great organization and we are very happy to have them at Gifft Hill School for these workshops,” said Paula Smail, the school’s director of communications. “Yesterday was a great day with the seventh and eighth graders learning about the implications of the choices they make regarding career, type of home, money management etc.”
Smail was pleased to see the students apply their academic knowledge to real life issues. Sen. Marvin Blyden stopped by to talk about his experience as a business owner; the culinary students prepared a meal for him and other visitors, using greens and vegetables grown on their campus.
John Engerman, who has served as JAVI’s board chairman for the past three years, told the JESS students at the end of a busy day, “I’m a certified public accountant. I don’t remember having fun learning about finances in school. You’re off to an excellent start. Please go home and share what you learned with your parents.”
When one student said, “I’m glad we didn’t have to do any work today,” the adults in the room all smiled. Topics like budgeting, the importance of education, setting career goals, and knowing one’s credit rating all came across as fun. Bingo.