Op-Ed: Financial Literacy for All High School Graduates

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It’s frustrating to see young people I grew up with working as hard as me and being compensated by burdens rather than freedom. In my work as a branch manager at Canvas People’s Credit Union, our mantra is to help clients ‘afford to live’. To that, I add my personal tree of three: Understanding Credit, Aspiring Homeownership, and Saving for Retirement.

I work with amazing people and take great pride in my role in the development of my team members. However, I take great pride in serving my community and helping all walks of life achieve financial success.

I am writing on behalf of a new DPS alumni organization called Ednium: The Alumni Collective. We’re on a mission to ensure that every student leaves public schools with the knowledge, skills, and power to define and succeed. A key strategic initiative right now requires every student to complete financial literacy studies to graduate.

My parents immigrated from Mexico in search of a better life – not just for themselves, but for their children. I participated Denver Public Schools (DPS) K-12, graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 2009. From an early age, I watched my parents work hard and save, eventually getting a mortgage on a house. On payday my dad and I would put money in a savings account, and over the years I’ve seen my savings grow.

I managed to be financially successful. I established credit at 18 and bought my house at 22 after graduating from Metropolitan State University. I have equity in my property – I’ve seen it more than double in value, and I have insurance policies on my mortgage and my life. I was able to achieve this success by empowering myself in the field of financial literacy. The problem is, the majority of my classmates and peers in the neighboring community cannot say the same.

I can help very well, and I have done so through my work at Canvas and with many of my relatives. But financial literacy must be initiated at school. If we are serious about establishing fairness in education and prosperity in the world we live in today, help our future generations on the path to generational wealth.

We live in a time when young people want to follow the ‘gram’ (Instagram). They may not understand the consequences of not setting financial goals and end up compromising their power and influence at a very young age. by the time they want to achieve financial freedom, they are cornered by debt or bad credit.

When I think back to how education has opened doors for me, I recognize the exceptional teachers I have had throughout my years at Knapp Elementary, Kepner Middle School and Lincoln. School board president Carrie Olson, then a teacher at Kepner, took my eighth grade class on a life-changing trip to Europe, also making the experience possible through fundraising. A main feature was to visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.

We sold candy and expanded coffee sales when we saw teachers arrive early in the morning with coffee that they had while driving on their way to work. I would earn a few more dollars by helping teachers carry things in their cars. And I will never forget the trainer Rocco Carbone who made a generous donation to take me across the finish line and make the trip possible.

The trip helped me understand other ways of life, to appreciate that we have opportunities that people in other countries don’t have, and it made me want to broaden my horizons to want to reach a unlimited success.

It is our responsibility to help future generations of students achieve the financial freedom necessary to break the cycle of poverty and be able to achieve their aspirations. Economic stress and recessions disproportionately impact communities of color, creating greater financial and economic challenges for past, current, and future students.

Yet in the 2019-2020 school year, only four DPS high schools offered a financial literacy course, and only 157 students chose to take it – a small fraction of the 5,000 students who graduate each year. The 150 former students of the first Ednium Design Lab ranked financial literacy as the first set of skills and knowledge missing in their K-12 experience.

Students need to be better prepared for the responsibilities and challenges of life after high school. The Council of Education should make financial literacy a requirement for graduation.

Danny Rodriguez is a director at Canvas Credit Union. A graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School and Metropolitan State University, he is a member of Ednium: The Alumni Collective.

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