Abound Credit Union developed a customized, in-house curriculum to meet the evolving needs of students and educators in 2021.
Forty-four Abound team members have been formally trained to deliver in-person lessons at local schools for students as young as age seven.
The credit union has won awards at the state and national levels for expanding its youth financial education efforts.
Abound Credit Union ($2.0B, Radcliff, KY) is well-known as a leader in financial education and continues to receive accolades both locally and nationally for its efforts. In 2022, Abound took home first place in Kentucky for Youth Financial Literacy and was named Credit Union of the Year by the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions.
However, the cooperative isn’t in it for the accolades. Abound’s board, leadership, and 327 team members are focused on the life-changing impact financial education has on its members and community at large. From sponsoring entertaining assemblies to collaborating with high school students and teachers to cover the right topics, Abound continues to push its programs to new highs.
Here, Jake Darabos, chief finance and administration officer for Abound, shares how the credit union built its programs and offers advice for other cooperatives.
How did Abound build its financial education program, specifically its customized in-house curriculum?
Jake Darabos: When schools began to return to in-person instruction in 2021, it became clear teachers had a lot on their plates. The 100% digital financial education program we provided during non-traditional instruction, and continue to provide, was great, but we began receiving requests for our team members to facilitate financial education sessions once students returned to their classrooms.
The 2020-2021 school year also marked the beginning of Kentucky’s state-mandated financial literacy requirement in high schools. Teachers who were charged with meeting those mandates were challenged to find the right resources. Unlike a math class, there is no formal textbook for high school financial literacy.
We started the development of our in-house curriculum by meeting with a few of the schools locally to discuss gaps they needed to fill to meet the new state requirements in high schools and what kind of content would keep younger kids entertained while learning about basic money management.
Talk more about the high school financial literacy curriculum. Are there specific topics Abound focuses on?
JD: Topics can vary based on the school’s specific needs. For example, one high school requested we talk about careers and career development, including the impact they can have on a student’s financial future, so we created a session about careers in banking.
Other topics required us to work more closely with teachers and put together curriculum on managing credit, saving, and building credit.
A lot of schools are using Dave Ramsey’s course to teach financial literacy, which is great. However, those materials tend to focus on saving rather than using credit for purchases. Students were missing out on what happens if, or when, they do need a loan. We try to supplement the materials the schools are already using to reinforce the message that saving is important, but if you ever do need to borrow, here’s how to be smart about it.
Abound has close ties to the military community. Is there anything different you offer to students from military families?
JD: Yes, absolutely. We developed one of our specialty programs in partnership with Fort Knox High School. We asked: What do your seniors need from a financial literacy standpoint? That question led to subsequent meetings with faculty and several students on what stresses them out in terms of finances.
From those conversations, we put together an eight-month program tailored to the needs of military-connected high school students. We taught a 60-minute session about once a month on wide-ranging topics. For example, students didn’t understand why so much money was being kept when they received their first paycheck. They didn’t immediately connect that with taxes.
These students were also starting to think about college and wanted to understand the funding they might be able to get through their parents in the military versus state grants and other financing options. Those college financing discussions led to the realization that military students are often forced to grow up faster than many of their peers.
Locally, many students from military families decide to go to the University of Louisville to take advantage of state grant money. However, a year into college their parents might move to a different post. Now, you have a 19-year-old without the luxury of taking their laundry home on the weekend and raiding their parents’ fridge, so we spent a lot of time talking about how to manage your own money as a college student.
What lessons have you learned about developing sessions and training staff members to deliver them?
JD: We decided to start slowly, and it’s grown much faster than we were expecting. The hardest piece is writing the curriculum. We’re not teachers, so trying to figure out how much content is the right amount and at the right level takes trial and error. We’ve tweaked a lot of things and have had to figure out on the fly with students what piqued their interest and what didn’t.
In terms of training additional staff to deliver the sessions, we had just a handful of trained team members prior to 2021, and we couldn’t keep up with the growing number of requests. We asked our entire management team for volunteers, which created a group of about 30 additional individuals.
Our financial education and PR professional, Hollie Sexton, trained them all one-on-one. She spent an hour or so with each person, going over the materials and the games for younger groups. For example, we have a financial jeopardy game with a buzzer system, so part of the training is learning how to run that game.
From there, we doubled up so the newly trained team member would have Hollie there to help them for the first couple of school sessions before running things on their own.
Now, a lot of our branch managers are coordinating directly with their local schools and helping us reach so many more students than if we retained a strictly centralized model.
Do you have any tips on how to teach young students something as important as financial wellness?
JD: We try to keep it as simple as possible and turn our lessons into game play. Even young kids pick up on more of the topics in a fun setting. One recent example was bringing Sammy Rabbit to local elementary schools for assemblies that Abound sponsored. We reached about 1,000 students at four schools in two days. It was entertaining and kept students’ attention while repeating important financial concepts in a new way.
A multi-faceted approach is key for young kids who are still developing their learning styles. If we can teach in a classroom with a storybook, have an assembly with music and a character like Sammy Rabbit, and follow all that up with games, then that repetition should help the concepts stick.
What advice do you have for other credit unions?
JD: Credit unions need to be nimble. When you’re working with kids, you must be able to change on the fly. We found even at the high school level, some of the concepts we were explaining were way too detailed. We had to bring it down to a more understandable level. For example, we don’t have to teach students everything about credit scores, just the basics to introduce them to the concept.
Partnering with educators and students is key. Building a strong partnership with your local schools and working collaboratively to find the right solution for the right group of students is critical for success.