Written by Christopher Edwards
Original Article Posted on BK Reader, April 27, 2023
Principal Chuck Jones speaks to students at a financial literacy event at Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School.Photo: Christopher Edwards
Want your kid to learn how to make a million dollars before 18? This Brooklyn school says it can help.
Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School, which serves grades 6-12, is offering financial literacy education to its 500 students. The school’s administration said its emphasis on financial literacy is often what draws parents to send their children there. The school serves largely Black children from low-income backgrounds, according to school data.
“We’re a school that bridges across lines of adversity and does what’s best for kids,” said Chuck Jones, the principal of Brooklyn Lab.
At Brooklyn Lab, financial literacy courses are required for students in middle school. In the classes, students not only learn how to manage basic checking and savings accounts, but they also learn budgeting, investment, behavioral economics, taxes, consumer skills and more. The classes are taught through NextGen Personal Finance, a free personal finance curriculum for teachers.
For students like those that attend Brooklyn Lab, financial education is a necessity to break the cycle of poverty. According to 2021 data, the percentage of the population under 18 and below the poverty level in New York was 18.5%. This is 4.6 percentage points higher than for the overall population.
“The demographic of the scholars and families that we serve shows historically that we are marginalized oftentimes by way of the education we receive," Jones said.
Though Brooklyn Lab has been around since 2013, its financial literacy classes began just last year. Vice Principal Sarah Breslin said middle school is the ideal age for children to start financial education.
“Kids are just starting to see where their decisions get them long-term, and I think financial literacy is like the perfect tie-in to that," Breslin said.
Venture Capitalist Julian Love speaks to students at a financial literacy event at Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.
The student body’s embrace of the curriculum was on full display at a talk held at the school on April 26. Julian Love, a Black venture capitalist, visited the students and talked about his experiences in finance. Students excitedly answered questions and participated in the presentation.
William Murchison, a teacher at Brooklyn Lab, said the classes are necessary.
"I think it's fantastic. because it delves into math; it delves into reading, it delves into history,” Murchison said. “I tell them all the time, 'You may not ever deal with algebra for the rest of your life, but you will be dealing with balancing your checkbook or worrying about your credit.'”
Murchison said he encourages lively discussions in his class. In a recent lesson, he showed students a video of the working conditions of iPhone factory workers and introduced them to capitalist and socialist perspectives.
“This class definitely sparked some new ideas for where I want to go,” said Vincent Roman, a seventh grader at Brooklyn Lab. “When I grow up, I do want to do something that has to do with finance or with business.”
Financial literacy classes at Brooklyn Lab are made dynamic and engaging for students by having a "gamified" competitive approach, Jones said. Teachers make use of Nearpod, a virtual platform that makes education fun through interactive quizzes the whole class can participate in.
Jones said a key element of this new program is making sure students are financially prepared not just for their distant futures but also their college careers, where what they can afford will play a large role.
“I love hearing our eighth graders talk about the power of understanding how to finance for college, instead of saying 'I don't want to go to college because I don't want to be in debt,'” Jones said.
The classes also have an impact on parents, many of whom are financially burdened.
“I don't think I've met a parent yet that said, 'Hey, I don't want my kid taking financial literacy,'" said Jones. "And I think that's something that's also worth celebrating."