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Course helps kids in financial literacy

Violeta Okolonwamu is a Wasco Independence High School teacher who spearheads a personal finance course to ensure students start on the right path.

Financial literacy is vital in helping young people manage money effectively to become financially stable, build assets and achieve personal goals.

To this end, the class is offered to all seniors and is a year-long program.

Okolonwamu teaches her students all aspects of financial literacy.

"Everything from the basics of employment, renting an apartment, buying a house or car, filing taxes and anything you need for personal finance."

Students set financial goals, make budgets and learn about saving, investing and managing debt. They are also introduced to how credit reports and scores work.

She does a lot of hands-on learning, teaching the concepts and giving her students real-life experiences from experts.

One of these experts is Shontay Smith-Sweeney, community manager vice president for Chase Bank. She hosts financial literacy workshops at the high school.

"I love teaching financial health because I grew up in an underserved and underbanked community in Bakersfield, and my mom didn't have the tools to teach me how to be financially stable."

"She didn't have a bank account or credit, so my two sisters and I made many bad financial decisions."

She said she can now educate people like herself and allow them to make better financial decisions for themselves and their families.

Smith-Sweeney said the information the students gain they take home.

"I've encountered that many of them bring it to their parents and teach them what they've learned and help them understand why it's important to have a checking and savings account and build credit to give them purchasing power."

She said the knowledge students take away will help them post-high school graduation, in college and into adulthood.

"It's good to have this education because early mistakes can have lasting financial repercussions."

"They can start building financial stability young in their adult years to be better prepared to purchase their first home, become a successful business owner or investor in the community."

Brayan Mendoza said, "It teaches me money management and how money works. The best part is that I am learning about budgeting and credit cards. I plan on opening a bank account to start saving for college and buying a car."

As part of the personal finance course, students learn how to write cover letters and resumes. There are also mock interview workshops that get them ready for their first job interviews. Local business community members conduct the sessions and offer tips and advice.

Yulitza Vazquez participated in the mock interviews. She said she liked how it gave her an inside look into the job application process.

About Okolonwamu, she said, "She is a perfect teacher because she is really good at explaining things and has helped me with my goals for the future. She gave me a mindset that I have to work hard."

Okolonwamu said, "I want them to have a real-world connection. This class gives them the financial tools they can use once they graduate and sets them up for success."


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