Schools fundraiser to support financial literacy, new science curriculum

With only a $2,700 monthly salary to support a wife and 13-year-old son, eighth-grader Emmanuel Roman had some tough choices to make about finances.

He needed the costly four-seat car, which meant dipping into savings, he said. “Paying the bills isn’t as easy as it looks.”

Lucky for Roman, it was just a role playing game to teach eighth-graders about personal finance. It is a program that wouldn’t exist in Issaquah without money from the Issaquah Schools Foundation (ISF).

The foundation plans to wrap up it’s Calling for Kids campaign with a second day of calling. Wednesday the group had raised $171,000 of the $300,000 target. The money makes up half of ISF’s annual fundraising.

If ISF doesn’t meet its goals this year, it will have to cut back on providing new science curriculum for elementary students, said Lynn Juniel, ISF development manager.

The past two years ISF has introduced all-new biology and chemistry textbooks in the high schools. It hopes to continue that science push next year with all new K-5 curriculum.

The foundation is less likely to cut programs, like the Junior Achievement financial literacy program Roman participated in.

Issaquah Middle School introduced the five-week Junior Achievement course six years ago to its social studies classes.

The course ends with a field trip to Financial Park, where all of the eighth-graders get tested on their budget-making skills in real-life scenarios.

Before this year, the middle school applied for annual ISF grants to cover the field-trip and curriculum costs.

Impressed by the program, Superintendent of the Issaquah School District Steve Rasmussen worked with ISF to extend it permanently to each of the middle schools, at a cost of $25,000.

“It’s really exciting that all five middle schools are getting to do this,” said teacher Ann Swiftney, who helped introduce the program.

In addition to helping the young teens learn about what goes into planning a monthly budget, the class also teaches students about credit cards and taxes.

The kids “understood that people pay taxes, but they didn’t understand what they were paid for,” Swiftney said.

Students took a hard look at the cost of social security, medicare and income taxes. After a discussion about credit cards, some students swore they’d never sign up for one.

“We talk about what you need versus what you want,” she said, adding that she taught them how dangerous it was to live beyond their means.

In the Finance Park scenario, Abraham Omana had to decide between better healthcare coverage or more vacation money.

“You have to cut back on the things that aren’t as important,” he said.

It also gave the youths a better understanding of what their parents go through, he said. “I know what they mean when they say they have to cut back on something.”

Such programs are essential for students to succeed in the 21st century, but they wouldn’t exist without private fundraising, Callahan said.

“The reality is our state funds basic education, and basic education is very basic,” she said.

Although people have been generous in spite of the economy, this year’s phone-a-thon has been hard.

Residents are less-inclined to answer their phones, because of all the political advertising for campaigns, Callahan said.

About 250 youths spent Monday and Thursday nights calling for donations. The gifts ranged from $10-$5,000.

“It’s a really good feeling to know that so many people in the community are investing,” Juniel said.