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RHS Seniors Learn Financial Savvy
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For the second year, the top two seniors at Riverbank High who are willing to commit to a 10-week financial literacy program will walk away with a $500 savings bond, courtesy of County Bank, as well as financial savvy that may come in handy as they graduate and become contributing adults in society.

Scholarships will be presented at Senior Awards Night in May. Each student who participates will receive a $50 savings bond.

The program, Financial First, is a financial literacy program developed by ByDesign targeted at teens and young adults, ages 15-22, which started Tuesday, Jan. 27. The program teaches participants how to make their first independent financial decisions through a series of workshops and an accompanying workbook.

Topics covered in the workshop include how to:

• Establish a banking relationship, write checks, and balance a checkbook;

• Create a résumé, prepare for interviews and budget their income;

• Plan an automotive budget and understand the impact of a credit score on the cost of a car loan;

• Obtain and properly handle a credit card and understand the impact of credit management on their credit score; and

• Plan a budget for renting an apartment, understand the pros and cons of having a roommate, and learn how to use a move-in checklist and much more.

Carla Strong, assistant vice president and branch manager of the Riverbank County Bank said, "This is a learning opportunity. Some of these students are the only English-speaking ones in the family and (when) they're translating things they have no idea what they're talking about."

One such student, 17-year-old Denise Sarabia, often translates English for her father to help with his small business. The class has helped her to understand basic concepts of keeping a checking account solvent and what hidden fees might pop up to eat funds.

"I want to get involved with my dad's small business so I know what he's talking about. I think this class is really enriching and it's going to benefit me a lot. I'll be able to use the skills I learned in real life," she said. "It also helps me to feel more confident out there."

The program was developed to meet the needs of teens and young adults in general, but the first target audience was foster youth who were about to become emancipated from the foster care system. The program includes a pre- and post-test to measure the results of knowledge gained through the program. Statistics maintained at ByDesign seem to indicate an average increase in the students' knowledge of 23.3 percent after participation in the program. Many studies confirm that young adults do not receive sufficient personal finance education at school or at home. One such study by the Biennial Survey of Financial Literacy done in 2006 revealed that only 16.7 percent of 12th graders nationwide had taken a course in money management.

In the class, using positive and practical examples, Strong showed the students how sloppy bookkeeping could create costly mistakes.

"Let's say you go to Starbucks for a $3 cup of coffee but you didn't write it down in your checkbook register and you bounce a check. That $3 cup of coffee turns into a $33 cup of coffee because now you've gotten hit with overdraft fees," Strong explained. "That's why it's important to keep track of what you're spending."

The greatest benefit of ByDesign is that it teaches young adults about fundamental financial decisions they will make as they begin their independent lives. Such knowledge can prevent future financial disasters. This program is also a benefit to those students who may be the only English-speaking members of their family. Often they are asked to translate for parents and other family members and that brings with it the responsibility of understanding not only the language but also the issue being discussed.

The first five weeks of the program are facilitated by Strong and the second half are taken over by the students. They will choose one of the five modules that have been completed and prepare their own lesson plan and presentation. Students are responsible for presenting that module of study to their fellow students. Student presentations are evaluated on content, understanding of the material as well as how well they can communicate the subject.