You may not be surprised to learn that teachers in a high school in Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest regions in the country, wanted their students to learn about finance and entrepreneurship. What may surprise you is that even at the epicenter of economic growth, innovation, and success, schools are not required to teach financial literacy. And what you may not realize is that while some degree of income inequality exists in every region of the country, there is a recognizable wealth gap in the Bay Area of California, largely due to the disappearance of middle-income households.
Henry M. Gunn High math teacher, Cristina Cismas Florea, thought there might be a way for students to study math applied to the real world and also to learn about issues and concerns faced by the small businesses and non-profit organizations in their community. Cristina began a club after school. Five students signed up. Within a year, more than 50 were involved, and it was time to grow the after-school club into a larger program. But Cristina knew the school couldn't accomplish this without help. The result was the creation of Gunn BEAM.
Gunn BEAM is an exciting collaboration among the school and private sector, including PwC, the City of Palo Alto, Silicon Valley Talent Partnership, and non-profit and community organizations. Colleagues in our Earn Your Future (EYF) initiative helped customize a curriculum on finance, which students study in their free time. Students then set to work on hands-on projects with local non-profits and small businesses. For instance, a local community center wants to build a new teen center, so the students are putting together a business plan for what it would look like to present to the community center. If the community center's leadership likes it, the students will research the finances involved and help scope out a location. "These projects are not research papers," Cristina says. "These are hands-on projects that make a difference in the city. Working on real-world business problems in the community gives the students self-confidence and a feeling that there are people out there who care about them and are on the same team as them."
Our collective effort to empower educators to teach students about finance, accounting, and business is not just a "nice to have." It's necessary, from New York to California, Minnesota to Missouri, and West Virginia to Wisconsin. To become fiscally and socially responsible adults, young people from every community must develop the capabilities they'll need to transition from a school to a career. Their teachers couldn't agree more. In fact, in a PwC study released this month, Bridging the Financial Literacy Gap: Empowering students to support the next generation, 92 percent of K-12 educators surveyed said financial education should be taught in schools. Yet only 31 percent of teachers feel completely comfortable teaching financial concepts; a large majority said they need more appropriate curriculum; and 68 percent would like to have take-home financial materials for students to share with their parents.
The report confirms our experience at PwC. In just the four years since we launched Earn Your Future with a $190M commitment to financial literacy, EYF has reached more than 3.5 million students and teachers with curricula and classroom support, exceeding our goal by more than a million, and demand for the initiative continues to increase. This month, we're launching a new Earn Your Future Digital Lab an open access site of financial education with videos, animated components and interactive activities for students and planning and resource guides for teachers.
Gunn BEAM is breaking new ground, too. The lunchtime club soon evolved into an after-school program led by a student executive team (co-CEOS, a CFO, a COO, and a Chief Marketing Officer). The first Gunn BEAM kick-off event drew an audience of 170 students, parents, partner companies, and community members and the school incorporated a business course into the official school curriculum. Cristina says she has never seen so much interest from students for a first-year course; they had to create two sections to accommodate all the interested students. One-third of the course curriculum was developed with PwC volunteers.
In an essay about her experience in Gunn BEAM, a student in the program wrote: "I'm learning skills that are highly applicable...and we're a team of enthusiastic optimists and invested workers. The future is bright." To provide young people across the country with the opportunity for a bright future, let's equip their teachers with the resources, professional development opportunities, digital tools and support they need to bridge the financial literacy gap.