Financially wiser: New program at ARHS for BIPOC, other students details money matters

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the financial empowerment class at Amherst Regional High School, hands out a certificate of completion to Nada Armoush. The new class, which started in January, is designed to give participants a financial foundation for their future.

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the financial empowerment class at Amherst Regional High School, hands out a certificate of completion to Nada Armoush. The new class, which started in January, is designed to give participants a financial foundation for their future. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School, hands out a certificate of completion to Arpad Bowman. The new class, which started in January, is designed to give participants a financial foundation for their future.

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School, hands out a certificate of completion to Arpad Bowman. The new class, which started in January, is designed to give participants a financial foundation for their future. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Moniha Krouch talks about what he liked about the financial empowerment class at Amherst Regional High School.

Moniha Krouch talks about what he liked about the financial empowerment class at Amherst Regional High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

 Nada Armoush raises her hand to talk about what she thought worked and what could be improved in the   Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School.

Nada Armoush raises her hand to talk about what she thought worked and what could be improved in the Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School, hands out a certificate of completion to Sanaa Johnson. The new class, which started in January, is designed to give participants a financial foundation for their future.

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School, hands out a certificate of completion to Sanaa Johnson. The new class, which started in January, is designed to give participants a financial foundation for their future. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School, leads a discussion about what students thought worked and what could be improved for the class next year.

Tom Fricke, the teacher of the Financial Empowerment Class at Amherst Regional High School, leads a discussion about what students thought worked and what could be improved for the class next year. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-12-2024 1:20 PM

Modified: 06-12-2024 4:56 PM


AMHERST — More than a dozen Amherst Regional High School students are closing out the school year significantly wiser about money matters, gaining more knowledge about finances and even getting debit cards for bank accounts in which a small amount of money has been deposited on their behalf.

For junior Sanaa Johnson, the twice-a-week flex block Financial Empowerment initiative that began in January, a financial literacy program designed for Black, Indigenous and people of color and disadvantaged high school sophomores and juniors, is important, as students at many schools with majority minority populations don’t have such opportunities.

“We’re constantly forgotten about with financial things and not being set up for life,” Johnson said.

It’s a sentiment that sophomore Kyrief Johnson shares, observing that the program could be extended.

“I wish it was longer,” Johnson said of the program. “I feel like this should be more widely taught.”

As the financial literacy initiative concluded this week, the Johnsons were among 13 Amherst Regional High School students receiving certificates for completing the program, taught by high school teacher Tom Fricke. The program also brought in a number of guests, including those in the banking profession, certified financial planners and academics at the University of Massachusetts, to lead workshops and seminars that covered topics such as budgeting, credit and debt, the power of compounding, understanding investment vehicles, risk management and retirement planning. There were also hands-on activities, including stock market simulations and budgeting challenges.

The program, to provide essential skills in saving, investing and planning for financial freedom, was created by Ancestral Bridges Foundation, an Amherst nonprofit, which received a $7,000 grant from Greenfield Savings Bank to support its aim, which is in part to focus on the racial wealth gap and obstacles to wealth in BIPOC communities. Ancestral Bridges also hopes to empower high school sophomores and juniors with the knowledge and skills to make informed financial decisions and educate and inspire the next generation to achieve financial independence and success.

Ancestral Bridges founder Anika Lopes told the students that her organization is investing in their excellence as students and as people who are already working to deconstruct societal issues, such as racism and climate change.

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“You are a generation who is deconstructing injustices, but are reconstructing something better,” Lopes said.

Lopes said that W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones planted the seed for the project and it became a two year labor of love for representatives to design the program, with the nonprofit’s youth opportunity committee, including Police Chief Gabe Ting, Principal Talib Sadiq and retired Judge Jim Collins, discussing it. The program should offer students a cornerstone for a secure financial future, Lopes said.

The school already offers a consumer economics class that meets every day for a quarter, but Fricke said that class is more of commitment for students, and some students are less inclined to participate in that type of class.

Fricke said Financial Empowerment should be seen as a supplement. The school recruited students of color to participate through counselors, faculty affiliated with student groups and other ways to identify students who don’t have space in their daily schedule for the school’s formal course.

“I think it’s good to have both,” Fricke said. “This financial literacy program will help students build a strong foundation for their own growth and opportunities.”

Sadiq, too, said that adding the program as a flex block option will give students something of practical value when they leave high school.

A student investment seed fund, in which participants received a $100 stipend and were encouraged to open a bank account, was also part of the program, with money deposited at various milestones, and incentivizing students to contribute funds from other sources, such as allowances and gifts.

Shandra Richardon, chief operating officer for the bank, said the bank is always looking at ways to support the community and students beginning their financial journeys.

“We’re also happy to have many of you as new customers at Greenfield Savings Bank,” Richardson said.

In feedback, students said they liked the focus on stocks and how the stock market functions and that they want to see more done to publicize the program when it returns in the fall.

Jasper Ekwere, a freshman, said he would have liked to have someone who has gone bankrupt to speak, perhaps to learn to avoid the pitfalls of money.

Sanaa Johnson said someone from a minimum wage job coming to class would help the students understand the challenges faced by people with limited means.

“They have to make a lot of cuts to support themselves and their families,” she said.

Kyrief Johnson suggested that students might benefit from hearing more from entrepreneurs and those who have succeeded, as well as going on field trips.

“It feels like first-hand experience is the best,” he said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.