Clarksdale, Mississippi,
05
July
2017
|
03:59 PM
America/Chicago

Life Lessons from Mr. Lewis

Veteran’s Career Change Yields Big Returns for Area Youth

Military veteran Larry Lewis has been called a hero, a helper and a friend. But in recent years, he’s earned another name: Money Smart.

Lewis, of Little Rock, Arkansas spent 25 years in the U.S. Navy, before deciding to serve his country in a new way:

From the classroom.

“I’m a financial education teacher, and I love sharing that knowledge with others,” said Lewis. “The journey began when I enrolled in the Troops to Teachers program.”

Established in the 90’s, Troops to Teachers connects service members to K-12 educational opportunities. Shortly after enrolling, Lewis received an offer to teach in the Mississippi Delta. Bordered by the Mississippi River, the area is known for its culture and comfort food…as well as its struggle with poverty.

“It’s a common problem,” said Lewis. “But we’re fixing it.”

Mississippi is one of the top five states in the U.S. with the most people living in poverty. Source: United States Census Bureau.Making the Grade:

In 2013, Lewis began teaching at Coahoma County Junior High School in Clarksdale, Mississippi. There, he learned about the Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE). The non  profit organization aims to increase financial literacy in Mississippi by providing opportunities for students and teachers to enhance their money smart skills. It even has an economics competition for students.

“If young people can get financial concepts, then we can change our situation in the Delta,” said Lewis. “We can empower more students to make wise choices when it comes to saving and spending.”

In 2016, Lewis prepped and prepared a team of seventh grade students for the MCEE competition. In the weeks and months leading up to the contest, he helped them understand the purpose of stocks, bonds, saving and investing.

“The lessons really resonated with the students,” Lewis smiled. “In fact, one mother called and asked me what I was teaching her son. She said he came home and wanted to buy stocks. With the help of his grandma, he bought shares for his birthday.”

Return on Investment:

By the time the contest rolled around, Lewis’ team was ready to win…

...and they did.

“It was wonderful, said Lewis. "After all, it’s about applying life lessons. The students succeeded in answering questions about interest rates, national productivity and even current events. This victory has expanded their horizons.”

The student success did not go unnoticed. After returning to the Delta the team received recognition from school leaders, city officials and state legislators. They were also invited to tour the state capital and watch the governor sign the 2017 Proclamation of Financial Literacy Month. On top of it all – each team member was awarded a scholarship for winning the MCEE contest.

“This experience has brought more attention to financial education," said Lewis. “In fact, a baseball player came to me and said he wanted to be like the MCEE competition students. He wanted to take part in the economic contest and, ‘be like those smart kids.’ It’s made teaching a lot easier because they see the value in these lessons.”

The added awareness is now translating into better student grades and new career possibilities. “Teachers like Mr. Lewis are powerful tools against poverty,” said MCEE President Selena Swartzfager. “His commitment to financial literacy and the well-being of his students is making a difference.  Great things are to come because of him.”

So what’s next for this hometown hero turned teacher? Lewis says, he’s right where he belongs.

“I feel strongly the best place to be is an educator in the Delta. We have the greatest students and leaders in the state of Mississippi. The next time you think about the Delta you will not think of poverty and great crops…you will think of its great students.”