When Kerry Woodward transitioned from working in investment banking to education, she realized students lacked confidence and understanding when it came to financial literacy.
“I ran a small after-school program at Boys’ Latin on personal finance,” Woodward said. “I saw that there was a major gap in knowledge coming out of high school and college in regards to making big important financial decisions.”
Now, as an executive director for Philadelphia Financial Scholars (PFS), a program that partnered with the University of Pennsylvania in 2016 to create financial education programs for high school students, Woodward wanted to implement personal finance into other Philly schools’ curriculum in a way that would be sustainable and scalable, so it could grow to serve students as quickly as possible.
Her vision had started to come to fruition after she applied for a grant in March 2022 through Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), a 8-year-old national nonprofit that aims to have students take at least one semester course in personal finance before graduating by the year 2030. PFS was selected, as well as 11 city school districts, to receive supplemental funding to provide financial literacy courses at 19 Philadelphia district and charter schools, serving about 1,200 students.
The 19 schools partnered with PFS include: Belmont Charter High School, Boys’ Latin High School, Building 21, Cristo Rey High School, George Washington High School, George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, Frankford High School, Franklin High School, Freire Charter School, King High School, Lincoln High School, KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy, MaST Community Charter School, MaST Community Charter School II, Mastery Hardy Williams, Mastery Simon Gratz, Mastery Lenfest, Prep Charter, and TECH Freire Charter School.
This year the grant, directed toward diverse school districts around the country, expanded the number of recipients from five to six districts, thanks to Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand, which donated a substantial amount of money, according to NGPF senior program manager Tori Mansfield.
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In Pennsylvania, fewer than 15% of high school students take a semester-long personal finance course, and the state is ranked among the worst in the country in its efforts to teach financial literacy, according to a 2017 report by Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy.
Upon stepping into her new role, Woodward spoke to 44 principals out of Philly’s more than 50 public high schools about the opportunity to add financial education courses.
“They shared that students were coming to them saying I need to learn the basic concepts of earning and savings,” Woodward said. “But we’re kind of at a loss because there aren’t statewide standards or guidance, like there are for science or English.”
Woodward had the participating students take a diagnostic exam, so she could evaluate their understanding of financial stability.
The results showed 65% of students said they did not feel confident in their ability to achieve financial well being. While 15% self-reported being able to calculate the cost of a loan before borrowing, and only 22% self-reported understanding how to create and follow a personal budget, according to Woodward.
“When you have this big gap in knowledge and understanding, it is very difficult to feel empowered to make smart financial decisions,” Woodward said. “I think addressing that knowledge gap with our program is a key part of that equation.”
With the grant money, 21 teachers at the 19 partnered schools are now trained and are teaching the courses.
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Woodward’s ambition is to partner with at least 30 schools by next year, and 50 schools by 2024, in hopes the organization could eventually work with all of the Philly public high schools.