Students at 24 area elementary schools will learn lessons this school year on financial literacy, thanks to a program offered through the University of Cincinnati.
The UC Economics Center StEP (Student Enterprise Program) is a program designed to teach second- through sixth-graders about the consequences of earning, spending and saving currency.
The currency comes in the form of StEP dollars, which students earn for good attendance, academic achievement and positive behavior.
"The students know that they are earning money for showing their responsibility by being prepared for class," said Sheri Renneker, principal of North College Hill Elementary.
Students can earn up to about $75 in StEP dollars a week. After keeping track of their earnings over the course of a school quarter, they get a chance to spend their currency at an in-school store.
The children can use their currency to purchase school supplies, including pencils and notebooks, or items for fun, like jump ropes, stuffed animals and MP3 players. The items are donated by community businesses, which partner with the schools.
Some items, like pencils and notebooks, can be purchased at the end of a single quarter, while others, like MP3 players, require saving up for two or more quarters.
"One of the main things we see is the increase in skills in regards to the decision-making process," said StEP Director Erin Harris.
Because many schools offer the program from one year to the next, students often get to participate for multiple school years. Younger students tend to spend more of their currency up front, whereas those in higher grade levels tend to save more, Harris said.
"I think it's important that they get those skills at a young age especially for exposure to what the real world's like," said Kristen Breig, lead StEP teacher at Amity Elementary.
The program not only teaches kids financial literacy concepts, it also introduces them to business skills at a young age. Volunteers from the schools' business partners run the stores and help students check out. During the checkout process, the children are encouraged to practice interpersonal skills, such as shaking hands, introducing themselves to the volunteers and asking them questions.
"We are reaching out to find as many positive behavior supports as we can, and this is certainly one that fuels our efforts," Renneker said.
In addition to having the option to spend or save their StEP dollars, students can choose to put their earnings toward a charity of their school's choosing. The UC Economics Center matches 1 percent of the StEP dollar donations with real dollars. This year, the center donated more than $8,000 to charitable organizations, including the North College Hill Scholarship Foundation and A Kid Again, which supports families raising a child with a life-threatening illness.
"I also like the charity component that comes with it because when you teach kids about charity at a young age, I think it can carry into their adult years," Breig said.
In addition to the year-long program, some schools participate in a year-end event known as Market Madness through the economics center. Like the primary StEP curriculum, Market Madness pairs schools with business partners in the community. However, it reverses the consumer role and allows the students to be the producers.
As producers, the pupils fill out applications and interview for roles within their own business and create products. They then sell the products -- which in the past have ranged from slime to decorated pens -- at the Market Madness event on UC's campus.
"I think it opens a new venue for them when they actually go on a college campus and see what it's like," Breig said.