By: Elise Phillips Margulis
The 2019-2020 academic year is underway, and East Orange’s preschool and elementary school students are studying financial literacy daily as a core subject.
East Orange is the first school district in New Jersey to adopt a wealth literacy curriculum. The new mandate extends the prior middle school finance education to younger students.
The WealthRise program was designed by BlackFem, a non-profit organization that creates and implements wealth literacy in school districts across the United States.
Parents are also trained. Many of the parents have multiple jobs so BlackFem utilizes online and recorded information to ensure that they receive their own financial literacy education.
The “Response to Intervention” part of the curriculum helps teachers to educate the students about social justice, cultural issues and real-world applications of financial literacy.
Chloe McKenzie, founder and CEO of BlackFem, reported that “the program really resonates with the students. BlackFem uses homework completion, tardy statuses and absentee rates to calculate each student’s ‘credit’ score.”
“The students learn to advocate for themselves through role playing,” she added. One child plays the lender and the other is a borrower. If the lender says something discriminatory, the borrower is taught how to handle the situation.
Their scores indicate how well the program is going. The scores also motivate students to attend class. The teachers and students in other districts both rate the program with high satisfaction.
According to Anita Champagne, Assistant Superintendent of East Orange School District, “The first initial workshop with teachers, we found the elementary teachers in particular were enthused to introduce financial literacy to grades 1-2.”
Champagne continued, “With the financial literary push in both elementary and middle school systems here in N.J., we believe the BlackFem program is going to be even more influential in developing a growth mindset for our students, teachers and parents on financial wellness.”
The program measures its own impact through a district oversight committee that monitors feedback and makes any changes necessary. It determines if additional training workshops or leadership training is needed, if any behavioral reinforcement is necessary and/or if more teaching modules should be added.
The pilot program began five years ago. There are programs in twelve states that follow the model.
Eleven other cities and a state have approached McKenzie to participate so BlackFem will be setting up a GoFundMe to help finance those programs.
McKenzie worked for J.P. Morgan and then taught elementary school. While teaching in an inner city where 75 percent of her students lived in public housing, she realized that underserved children need to be educated in financial matters like credit cards, mortgages, auto loans and more at a young age.
BlackFem’s mission is to “transform school-based learning so that girls of color in underserved communities are empowered with skills, habits, and resources to build and sustain wealth.” Boys of color also benefit from BlackFem because they are in the classrooms with the girls.
McKenzie discovered that, “Women of color have a medium net worth of $5.00. Only through social justice and wealth management can people advance themselves.” She added that her research shows that “non-profit foundations headed by women of color are the most underfunded.”
McKenzie also noted that children of color are more likely to wind up in special education classes so the special education classes receive financial training as well.
Her other company, On A Wealth Kick, LLC “helps individuals and institutions understand their role in closing the wealth gap. It offers institutional advising, speaking engagements, community organizing, and personal financial coaching.”
Through On A Wealth Kick, McKenzie “advises institutions and Fortune 500 companies on how to fight for wealth justice through wealth literacy and how to attract and retain new and more diverse clientele demographics through more accessible and inclusive financial practices.”
She also conducts financial workshops for women.
On a personal note, McKenzie has always been conscious of the living conditions of people with less money while she was helping her wealthy JP Morgan clients increase their net worth.
She volunteered as a financial counselor at a homeless shelter on weekends and was also a member of the Volunteer Analyst/Association Group helping JP Morgan employees to give back to the community.
McKenzie obtained a graduate certificate in financial planning and services to learn how to set up and operate BlackFem. She recently earned her Masters degree in Public Administration and was named in Investment News Magazine’s 40 People under 40.
This year she will be on a national speaking tour telling the country about how her organizations can help underserved communities—especially women of color.
She’s also meeting with financial institutions to help fund her companies so she can reach and assist the masses.
McKenzie’s mission is to change the world and she’s already made a big impact on the underserved. As more school districts implement BlackFem’s WealthRise program more people will benefit from her vision.