Jakita Allen: Financial literacy and the Adult Literacy League

There’s something about the combination of New Year’s resolutions and tax deadlines that makes most of us want to get our financial houses in order. Managing your money can seem like a daunting chore to anyone, but that can be especially true for adult learners.  While we certainly know several successful students, many often do not have the skills to create their own financial plan. Many students struggle not only with text literacy, but also with numeracy, or number literacy, which can make such chores even more intimidating. For the past nine months, the Adult Literacy League (ALL) has tackled this challenge for the students we serve, including those learning English and those with literacy skills below the 5th grade level.

The Adult Literacy League continuously provides training and support to tutors, so they can reach beyond the standard literacy curriculum to help students build lives for their families that are financially stable and sustainable. Tutors fight illiteracy on the front lines by working with adult learners on a one-to-one basis to help them achieve their personal goals. These goals are the benchmarks our students use to measure their own success. We often receive reports that say things like, “Now, I can read my paycheck!” Imagine reaching that milestone after already working for twenty years.

In our job skills classes, we have helped students write resumes, practice interview techniques, apply for jobs on line, and learn important job retention skills. In just the past year, at least 35 of our students have found jobs, 20 obtained first-time employment, and an even greater number have improved their work situation. This is one of the key outcomes we use to measure whether our students are gaining financial stability. We are also very proud of those students, about 20, who have continued their education to get a GED and/or post-secondary education or training.

Our “More for the Money” program offers classes to all students, including those learning English.  In this class, I helped students learn to make a spending plan by making financial goals, determining the steps they needed to get there, and recording their progress. We talked about things as simple as writing checks, how to manage a bank account, and keeping track of the money we spend. We used the “Control Your Money” workbook from New Readers Press, which is a little easier for students at the lower literacy levels. The Adult Literacy League is now working with an experienced volunteer to redesign elements of the FDIC “Money Smart” curriculum to provide classes for our students.

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We are proud to report that our instructors, tutors, and students have reported more than 200 positive outcomes based on improved financial sustainability.  New jobs, better jobs, career training, workable resumes, job interviews, budgeting skills, new bank counts, and savings & retirement plans.  Improving these skills helps our students develop their basic skills and transform the future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

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