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Fifth-graders practice making big bucks

Mock town provides opportunity to understand financial concepts

Fifth-grade students from Durango School District 9-R put their financial knowledge to work in a mock town at Fort Lewis College in May.

With $200 in business loans to pay back before they could make a profit, entrepreneurial teams working at each business had a day to convince each other to spend money on their products.

“There’s something I want you to try before you lower your price – advertise,”coached Susan Stenhaug, an assistant director with the Young Americans Center for Financial Education.

The center brought its Young AmeriTowne program to Durango for the first time this spring to help supplement the financial education kids receive in school. Vantiv Integrated Payments, a major local employer, helped make their visit possible and provided debit cards to students.

The program has permanent locations in the Denver area, and it started traveling around the state in 2014.

Durango students worked in the Young AmeriTowne business of their choice for most of a day during their visit. The options included a bank, a snack shop, a TV station and a medical center among others.

During their breaks, they had to make sure they didn’t overdraw their personal bank accounts, which held $25, said Chris O’Reilly, a program director with Young AmeriTowne.

Each student was given both cash and a debit card that they were asked to manage during their breaks from work.

“Budgeting your time and your money wisely is a big lesson,” O’Reilly said.

It’s also a tough lesson. Almost everyday a student overdrafts their bank account, he said.

Financial education is lacking among Generation Z, those people born between the late 1990s through the early 2000s. A study by Northeastern University in 2014 showed that 75 percent of the teens questioned did not have college savings, while 42 percent expected to work for themselves.

The AmeriTowne program helps build a foundation for some of the entrepreneurs of this generation. It helps them understand supply and demand, interest on their loans and other business concepts.

“We firmly believe students learn best with real-life, hands-on experience,”said Richard E. Martinez Jr., president and chief executive officer of Young Americans Center for Financial Education, in a statement.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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