Early fiscal lessons • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Early fiscal lessons

Parents find plenty of resources, support for teaching children how to manage money

Coffee Club
Students at La Porte High School run the Coffee Club from 7 to 8:30 a.m. each school day. Teacher Angie LaRocco wants her students to embrace entrepreneurship.

Teacher Angie LaRocco wants her students to have the financial literacy to open their own businesses one day.

“We started an entrepreneurship program as part of our curriculum last year and decided to create a student-run business to give the students hands-on learning experience of what it takes to run a business,” the La Porte High School entrepreneurship teacher said.

She is among a growing movement of parents and people from schools, organizations and businesses who want to make sure youth know how to pay the bills and grow financially throughout life.

Misty De La Cruz is one of them. She is involved at schools and libraries to empower students and adults to create a knowledgeable and financially secure community.

“I’ve had an amazing reaction from kids who are very excited and savvy as young as first and second grade talking about entrepreneurship to business students at the university level,” said De La Cruz, a financial wellness specialist at First Financial Bank. “The big topics with high school students include budgeting and credit.”

Across all age groups, including adults, De La Cruz noted that, “when you know better, you do better.”

Priority of financial literacy

The state has been on board with the philosophy since 2009 when it incorporated “personal finance responsibility” for school instruction.

But a 2023 report from the Penny Hoarder showed that Indiana has fallen behind in financial literacy. The study ranked Indiana 43rd with a score of 46.6%. The scores were determined by how each state reports financial literacy and resilience through a variety of criteria, such as personal consumption, earning, knowledge, investing and savings, state policy and resilience.

Gov. Eric Holcomb again made financial literacy a priority signing Senate Bill 35 during the 2023 legislative session last spring. Senate Bill 35 officially made Indiana the 19th state to guarantee personal finance education for high school students.

The legislation requires personal finance to be a separate subject with content instruction to include managing credit scores, investing and filing taxes. Senate Bill 35 was sponsored by Sen. Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) and was passed unanimously through both chambers of the legislature.

Senate Bill 35 will become effective with the cohort of students who are expected to graduate from a public school, a charter school or a state-accredited nonpublic school in 2028. Students then must successfully complete a personal financial responsibility course to graduate.

Teaching financial responsibility to young students is not new in the Northwest Indiana area.

From the early years to high school, students have vast opportunities to learn in a variety of creative and practical ways through the support of local schools, businesses, financial institutions and key nonprofit organizations.

Collaborative efforts emphasizing financial literacy for young adults have had a strong local impact.

Banks have access to resources like the American Bankers Association’s Teach Children to Save program. It targets kindergarten through eighth-graders by offering banks lesson plans, activity sheets and other tools to engage the community. Horizon Bank and Centier Bank both are enrolled in the program.

The Crossroads Chamber of Commerce in Merrillville and Duneland Chamber of Commerce in Chesterton have had dynamic programs for the past few decades. They partner with organizations like Junior Achievement and their local school districts to help get kids thinking about their future financial goals.

Chamber partnerships

Celebrating their 10th year of partnership this year, the Crossroads Chamber and Junior Achievement Chicago held a JA Chamber Town Event on March 19 that empowered nearly 2,000 eighth-grade students from seven middle schools across the Region. From their beginnings at Merrillville and Crown Point middle schools, the JA Chamber Town Event evolved into a cornerstone program for both organizations.

Matt Scheuer
Matt Scheuer of Purdue Federal Credit Union greets students at his station during the 10th JA Chamber Town Event on March 19. Nearly 2,000 eighth-grade students from seven middle schools across the Region attended the event. (Provided by Crossroads Chamber of Commerce)

Chamber members voluntarily contribute their time and expertise to teach students essential budgeting skills and instilling a mindset for planning. By bridging the gap between local businesses and schools, the event fosters a collaborative environment where students can gain practical insights and mentorship from industry professionals.

“This partnership exemplifies the power of community engagement and education, shaping the next generation of informed and prepared youth,” said Roslyn Malouhos, Junior Achievement of Chicago’s NW Indiana division director, in a press release. “It’s volunteers and local businesses partnering with JA that open up possibilities for students — when our youth succeeds, we all win!”

Deann Patena, president and CEO of Crossroads, noted that the program empowers the next generation with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in an increasingly complex financial landscape.

Deann Patena
Deann Patena

“Our longstanding partnership with Junior Achievement Chicago has allowed us to expand our reach and impact, ultimately shaping the future workforce of Northwest Indiana,” she said in a press release.

The Crown Point Community School Corp. provides instruction to its students and involvement in the event.

“Each year our eighth-grade students participate in the program with Crossroads Chamber of Commerce and Junior Achievement,” said Dr. Todd Terrill, superintendent. “Students each receive a career at the start of the event. They ‘walk around town’ to visit various businesses for financial information. Students visit booths with information about insurance, auto, retirement, utilities, childcare and more. As they move from place to place, students must prioritize their given budget. They must make choices about what fits their income and determine the difference between needs and wants.”

Terrill says the event is an opportunity for students to put part of their advisory class into practice, where they recently completed Junior Achievement’s Economics for Success program.

“Chamber Town uses approximately 65 volunteers from local organizations and businesses,” he said. “With the help of these volunteers, students are coached through understanding the cost of living, how expenses may occur outside of our control, and how life’s circumstances can affect financial well-being.”

Eighth Grade Reality Check
About 500 students turned out for the Duneland Chamber and the Duneland School Corp.’s May 10 Eighth Grade Reality Check. (Provided by Duneland Chamber of Commerce)

For more than 20 years, the Duneland Chamber and the Duneland School Corp. have had their own signature event: the Eighth Grade Reality Check. Students learn how to be successful in life after graduation. Over 120 volunteers assist students, who take part in financial literacy real-life scenarios.

This year’s event May 10 attracted about 500 students.

“Reality Check provides our members with a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the community by educating students about the importance of making wise financial decisions,” said Rachel Campbell, Duneland’s events manager.

Many of the members have children or grandchildren in the area or were part of the school system too.

“Witnessing our business representatives engaging with students and sharing their expertise is a wonderful demonstration of community involvement,” Campbell said.

Students are given a predetermined salary that they would earn in their chosen profession at age 28. During the checkup, they visit tables where they pay expenses such as taxes, housing and childcare, to name a few.

The experiences of each student are different. Some end up in bankruptcy, others have a little money left over at the end. Those who have remaining funds can spend their money on “imaginary” rewards like investments, trips, concerts and more. The results are indeed a financial reality check.

School level

Schools also are stepping up with unique class offerings and projects.

Dr. Todd Terrill, superintendent
Dr. Todd Terrill, superintendent of the Crown Point Community School Corp., says the school offers a variety of financial literacy courses. (Provided by Todd Terrill)

Terrill said a variety of classes are offered at Crown Point High School.

“Two of our courses that were previously electives will now be offered as choices to meet the new graduation requirement for financial literacy,” he said. “Students can choose either personal financial responsibility or personal finance and banking. Incoming freshmen were able to schedule one of these courses for next year.”

Students can continue learning about financial responsibility by taking courses in finance like accounting, principles of business management, finance and investment, and entrepreneurship.

LaRocco’s students at La Porte High School have taken financial responsibilities to the next level by creating a student-run coffee shop, better known as the Coffee Club. Nine students run the shop, which is open from 7 to 8:30 a.m. each school day.

Students created the menu and serve hot and iced coffee, hot and iced lattes, tea and hot cocoa. It is the first self-sufficient student-run business at the school.

LaRocco is proud of what her students accomplished.

“In order to learn what it takes to run a business, we decided to create a coffee shop to offer the students and staff more drink options,” she said. “We created a business plan last year and got approval to move forward this school year.”

LaRocco said there were challenges, but students have learned “the ups and downs of making enough money to be self-sustaining as we don’t have a budget.”

She said they also learned running a business is hard work.

“They have realized that there is a lot of work, especially behind the scenes, to launch a business and keep it going,” she said. “Students are learning to receive feedback from customers and each other to help the business and themselves to improve.”

Educating youth about financial literacy is also a top priority for Mariana Reyes, assistant branch manager of Centier Bank’s Elkhart north branch.

“We have a very diverse community, and it is very important for me to empower families, including many who don’t speak English,” said Reyes, who is bilingual.

Her work helping youth run a lemonade stand has been noticed by the Junior Achievement of Elkhart County. She was named Volunteer of the Year.

“I have been very involved in the annual Junior Achievement Lemonade Day serving Elkhart County,” she said. “This event encourages financial literacy and youth entrepreneurship at an early age with the goal of preparing them to succeed.”

She said participants start, own and operated the lemonade stand.

“It’s rewarding to encourage and mentor them along with other adults in our community,” she said.

Parental responsibility

The McKeever family
The McKeever family's children learned how to manage money when their parents opened savings accounts for them. (Provided by Becky McKeever)

Parents are an integral part of their children’s financial education.

With the help of financial institutions like Centier Bank, First Financial Bank, Horizon Bank, Peoples Bank and others, special student savings and checking accounts help them teach their children how to manage allowances and money for chores.

Becky McKeever, a mom of four, a PTO president and bookkeeper at Munster High School, said that when her kids were young, she and her husband helped them open savings accounts.

“We gave them brochures from several banks and let them pick where they wanted to go,” she said. “When they started receiving money as gifts or earned it by helping out around the house with extra chores, we had them put everything in the bank first.”

Heather Hunter is another mom trying to teach her daughter the value of money. Hunter recently was named a monthly $1,000 drawing winner of Centier Bank’s prize-linked savings account, Billinero. The savings account awards cash prizes in monthly and quarterly drawings to winning users and is designed to develop and strengthen the habit of saving money.

Heather Hunter, mom in Hebron
Heather Hunter

Hunter said her teenage daughter, Joslynn, a ninth-grader at Hebron High School, just got her first job and opened her first student checking account.

“I’m proud of my daughter for getting her first job and wanting to manage her money responsibly,” Hunter said. “I’m excited to share this moment with her.”

McKeever said the effort to teach financial responsibility was worthwhile.

“Our children would talk to us about what they wanted to buy with some of the money and what they would keep in the bank,” she said. “As they got older, they naturally followed this process.”

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Patricia Szpekowski

    PR Strategies & Communications Inc. / PmS advertising Inc.

    Pat Szpekowski is president of PR Strategies & Communications Inc. in Elgin, Illinois, a full service advertising agency/public relations firm she founded in 1987. Pat enjoys storytelling and capturing the essence of people, places, businesses and nonprofits. She enjoys wearing two hats as an award-winning accredited public relations professional and freelance journalist. She has received recognitions from the Illinois Woman's Press Association, National Federation of Press Women, Catholic Media Association and the Northern Illinois News Association. Pat strongly believes in community outreach. She is involved in active participation, support, membership, volunteerism and leadership in various professional and community organizations.

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