Milwaukee, WI ,
02:00 AM

Money Coach – Bringing Students from “Scared” to Empowered

When it came to credit cards, Shanice was like a lot of high school juniors: “scared.”

“I didn’t know anything about credit cards. Money in general wasn’t something we talked a lot about at home, or even at school,” said Shanice, a student at Milwaukee’s Washington High School.

A new financial literacy program called Money Coach introduced at the school not only gave Shanice peace of mind when it came to money, but also gave her resume tools which she was able to share with her mother in what turned out to be a successful job search.

Money Coach is administered by volunteers with a financial background – for Shanice’s class, it was run by a Washington H.S. alum – and centers on real-world instances of budgets, credit, bank accounts and financial best practices. Nonprofit financial literacy organization Make A Difference – Wisconsin operates the Money Coach program, which is supported in part by generous funding from State Farm.

Make A Difference programs like Money Coach aim to fill gaps in education and personal backgrounds when it comes to a healthy relationship with expenses and income. Make A Difference – Wisconsin has reached thousands of high school students during its decade of service, though financial realities have pushed the nonprofit to evolve its lessons and outreach into new programs like Money Coach.

Investing in Your Alma Mater

Ranell Washington is now in his second year as a “Coach” for the Money Coach Program at Washington High School, from where he graduated 15 years ago. Ranell went on to college and a successful career at a large international bank. Looking back at his teenage years, Ranell said he realized he was tasked with finding out information and resources on finances, something made more difficult by the range of advice and the lure of dicey money outlets like check cashing stores.

Make A Difference – Wisconsin connected with Ranell and put him in classrooms he knows quite well at his alma mater, where he’s in been a money mentor for Shanice and her peers.

“These are life lessons, stuff the kids will need as they become adults,” said Ranell, who regularly shares an anecdote with students on his eye-opening first experience with buying a car. “It was important for me to give back what I’ve learned as a professional in a way that really benefits our entire community.”

In its second year, the program has reached 100 kids. The results from the one-on-one guidance from Money Coach? Nearly all students who participated now have a bank account (up from 55%), four-times as many begun to track their expenses, and 80% have crafted a budget (up from 10%). And you can count Shanice among those who have increased their cash consciousness.

An additional bonus of the program comes from a scholarship Money Coach students earn by hitting benchmarks on savings, investment and budgeting. In turn, that scholarship money goes to the student at the end of the program for college or career spending after completion.

“We showed the kids the power of saving and interest, and made it clear they were accountable for this cash. Immediately, things became real for them,” he said.

It was also real fun, Shanice said.

A Decade of Difference

Money Coach is an extension of Make A Difference – Wisconsin’s core classroom program, called Money Sense. Money Coach takes some of the financial fundamentals from the Money Sense program and dives deeper into a long-range plan for savings, with volunteers dedicated to instruction and advice in small groups and one-on-one. Bringing financial experts from the community into Wisconsin classrooms was the brainchild of Lloyd Levin, a financial and real estate executive who was inspired by a close friend’s public plea to contribute to the education of the state’s students. Since 2006, with generous backing from State Farm and others, Make A Difference – Wisconsin has established core financial lessons as well as emerging programs like Money Coach to reach thousands of students annually in school districts which may not have the drive or resources to offer fiscal fundamentals.


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