Landmark Community Bank has given $50,000 to Soulsville Charter School to use for its Money Matters personal finance course, a year-long class for the school’s upperclassmen.
Launched in 2005, the Soulsville Charter School has produced graduating classes with 100 percent college acceptance every year since the first class walked the stage in 2012.
The success story isn’t meant to end there, thanks in part to the work accomplished before graduation.
The school’s Money Matters personal finance course might not have a direct correlation to graduation rates, but it will play a vital role in developing adults who are more responsible financially.
On Jan. 25, the school received an important donation that will help sustain the program, which is in its first academic year as a full-year course. Landmark Community Bank presented a $50,000 multi-year gift that will support the course.
“I said if I can get $500 that would be awesome,” said Erin Johnson, instructor of the class. “We’d have a great class store with that. This has exceeded anything I thought.”
What began as a lower-level elective course has become a mandatory pre-requisite course for seniors. It was a semester class, mostly filled with ninth and 10th graders. But Johnson said she didn’t feel the younger students grasped the concepts as well. So she pushed for it to be for juniors and seniors.
Tennessee law requires a semester of personal finance for graduation. Johnson didn’t think that was enough.
“There are so many major concepts in finance that are important,” she said. “I feel the impact it will have on students is greater. In one semester I was teaching a lot of information but they weren’t doing the personal finance principles.”
Students create a personal financial plan while learning about money and budgeting; credit, interest and other banking concepts; investing and entrepreneurship, among other key elements. Johnson pulls from her own personal experiences to share lessons on things like student loans and credit card debt. Students pay bills every two weeks and have a class store to make purchases.
Sharmaine Burton said taking the class has opened her eyes.
“Before taking personal finance I had the mindset it was only managing money,” she said. “I learned it’s so much more. I’ve learned tools. One of the biggest things is true happiness is spending money how you want and not living paycheck to paycheck.”
Johnson started at Soulsville Charter School six years ago teaching 11th grade math. She quickly volunteered to teach the personal finance course as well.
“I enjoy teaching the subject,” she said. “I think I’m truly making a difference in students’ lives.”
Soulsville Charter School Executive Director NeShante Brown said she believes students recognize the class as useful information they need in life.
The class is another example of how the Soulsville Charter School offers things a bit differently to give students the tools they need to find success later in life.
For example, a junior seminar is built into the school day. It’s largely for ACT prep.
“Many of our students wouldn’t be able to engage in tutoring outside of school so we provide it during school,” Brown said. “It’s not only a strategies course but a skill-building course. Many of our juniors still need help in areas of skill building.”
Toward the end of junior year the class becomes prep for what will happen in senior year.
And that is when students take a senior seminar that is built into the school day. This is meant largely to usher students through the college admissions process. All students are required to apply to at least six colleges.
“We have a lot of first-generation college attendees,” Brown said. “A lot of private schools offer additional support, and that’s great, but we’re trying to do our part, too.”