Leeds students provide financial literacy to middle-schoolers

May 24, 2013 •

In class one recent Friday, during a question-and-answer session with the founder of a startup, students asked questions befitting venture capitalists. 

The questions didn’t come from business majors soon to embark on their own entrepreneurial endeavors, as might be expected. Rather, they came from sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Summit Charter Middle School in Boulder.

In rapid succession, they asked Cory Finney, founder of SnowGate -- a slope-side locker system for skis and snowboards -- about the success of his budding company, the technology he’s had to learn, prototype production, marketing strategies, plans for expansion and more.

The middle school students were part of an elective course in financial literacy, created and led by five undergraduate students from CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

“This class has taught them things that go beyond the next test and beyond the classroom,” said Lisa Mueller, one of the student volunteers from the Leeds School, who graduated this month with concurrent bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. “It will be carried with them their entire lives with skills like knowing how to invest, budget and manage money.”

The CU-Boulder students, with the guidance of Associate Professor Alan Jagolinzer of the Leeds School, planned and provided 50-minute lessons at least twice weekly throughout the spring semester on everything from budgeting to debt, investment returns, market volatility and credit cards.

They also helped the middle school students identify opportunities to invest $25,000 allocated for the project in the stock market.  

For the investment portfolio, the middle school students teamed up into four groups to identify potential investment opportunities. They researched companies and pitched their ideas to a volunteer group of professional investors, chaired by Kent Muckel of Perella Weinberg Partners. Based on the students’ input, the nonprofit organization that supports Summit then invested $25,000 allocated for the project in shares. The overall performance of the portfolio was positive over the semester and all returns have been reinvested for future use at Summit.

“We’re excited that our students have the opportunity to learn about finance with real-world implications,” said Adam Galvin, principal of Summit. “This experience shows our level of trust in our students with advisory committee supervision and also helps them appreciate how to develop sustainable funding infrastructures.” 

In addition to developing and teaching the course, the CU-Boulder students helped launched a business club at Summit. Its middle school members opened and operate a small school supply store called “$um Stuff.”

“Our primary goal is to teach fundamental finance concepts to students much earlier in their schooling because we believe this provides core life skills training,” said Jagolinzer, an associate professor of accounting. “Most students, and many adults for that matter, have virtually no finance acumen and we think that needs to change.” 

For the CU-Boulder students, the community service opportunity has shaped communication and collaboration skills, as well as provided a network, according to Mueller.

“It’s really cool to see other students at CU-Boulder be passionate about something,” said Mueller. “It’s such a huge school, and you can find a small group of people who love to teach and share their knowledge. Everybody who’s developed this course has been awesome. I hope I can help them in the future and stay involved with the project.”

Mueller, who is now works at an audit, tax and advisory firm called KPMG, is among three of the student volunteers who graduated this month. The financial literacy class at Summit is slated to continue next school year and recruitment of new student volunteers is underway.