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Why One Rock Band Is Trying To Teach Students Financial Literacy


Between online banking and digital apps like Venmo, it's easier than ever to spend money. And that presents challenges for parents and schools trying to teach kids how to manage their finances. Sarah Schneider of member station WESA in Pittsburgh reports now on a rock band that's trying to help.

SARAH SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Students fill an auditorium in a western Pennsylvania high school. It's 8 a.m., and the juniors and seniors are pretty quiet. They're looking at their phones and talking to their friends when a rock band comes on stage.


STEVEN GOODING: (Singing, unintelligible).

SCHNEIDER: Now they're paying attention, and they're into it. They hold lit smartphones above their heads mimicking lighters and cheer loudly after every song. This wasn't what many of the students expected. The posters around the school said the assembly would be about financial literacy. But these songs aren't about stocks or money management. Lead singer Steven Gooding says the music is just a way to hook the students who all very soon will be making adult financial decisions as they're thinking about getting jobs or loans to go to college.

GOODING: Once the music gets going, it gets them into it. And then I have that teachable moment. I'm sure if I started with the speech, we would be in trouble. I didn't get into this to do public speaking. I'm a musician that made these mistakes and just thought hopefully we can, you know, make a little bit of a difference.


GOODING: (Singing, unintelligible).

SCHNEIDER: Those mistakes included relying on credit cards when he was first starting out as a musician and only making minimum payments, which eventually led to a poor credit score. After a few songs, the band, named after the lead singer's last name, Gooding, pauses, and the other musicians leave the stage.

Gooding then launches into a 15-minute presentation about predatory lending, saving early, maintaining a healthy credit score and the myths of getting rich quick. One thing he comes back to a few times is his concern about smartphone apps used to make purchases like PayPal and a host of other tools that allow you to buy on credit and might charge a fee or an interest rate.

GOODING: It almost turns your phone into a credit card. That's the last thing these kids need.

SCHNEIDER: They've taken the show to more than 200 schools across the country with the help of a nonprofit he started, Funding the Future. After doing so many of these shows, Gooding keeps the kids engaged in what could otherwise be a pretty boring topic by talking about himself and what he wished he had known when he was their age. Now that he has their attention, the anxious teenagers at Hempfield Area High School just east of Pittsburgh have a lot of questions.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: What do you think the best time to open a debit or credit account would be?

ERIN O'NEILL: Right now.

SCHNEIDER: Guitar player Erin O'Neill is back on stage. She says students don't need a credit card yet, but banking is a good first step.

O'NEILL: You can start with these good habits now instead of waiting and waiting for a long time and then maybe not having these ideas fresh in your mind. So start now. Start saving.

SCHNEIDER: Part of the band's mission is to make financial literacy courses mandatory in all high schools. Now only 17 states require some sort of personal finance course. Hempfield Area High School just added a new course this fall required for all freshmen where they learn how to budget and balance a checkbook. Business teacher Pat Valenti says they brought Gooding to the school to introduce those lessons to students who didn't take the course.

PAT VALENTI: We're trying to make the class as broad as possible but also get into some in-depth stuff to teach the kids, you know, what they need to know.

SCHNEIDER: Bandleader Gooding doesn't claim to be a financial adviser. He answers the students' questions, but he says he wants them to at least start thinking about their financial future. But he acknowledges that he can't fill the gap. After the concert, though, only a few kids asked the musicians about being in a band. Most of them are asking for more financial advice. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Schneider in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Schneider comes to Pittsburgh by way of the prairie state of Illinois. She spent the summer of 2014 getting to know Pittsburgh as a reporting and photography intern with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She now collaborates on special projects including the Life of Learning Initiative as the station’s PULSE - Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience - fellow. Sarah graduated from Southern Illinois University’s Journalism School in May. During her four years there she worked as a reporter and editor at the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian. She has previously interned at newspapers in eastern Idaho and central Illinois. You can often find Sarah behind a camera documenting people she meets and discovering new places. She also enjoys reading, crocheting and National Geographic documentaries.
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