On a recent Friday, 40 Our Lady of the Elms students were in a classroom, but they weren’t being taught by teachers.
Their teachers were there, but the instructors for the day were some of their own parents. The subject of the day: financial education.
But this wasn’t the typical workshop where parents talk about their careers or give a guest lecture.
Instead, the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders are participating in a pilot program that three Elms parents designed themselves called g2G or girls to Greatness.
Ketan Parekh is one of the parents who call themselves the 3P’s for “peas in a pod” (their last names also all start with a P).
But Parekh said that while he and other parents at the all-girls Catholic school value their rigorous academic subject matters, “There’s got to be more. We’re not going to point fingers and say, ‘This is what the schools should do.’ We’re going to be the volunteers. We’ll create this and deliver life skills. What life skills do these girls need to become great business leaders?” Parekh said.
“The old Elms has a very amazing, strong tradition, but home economics is the old world for these girls. These girls have to be ready for truly global leadership,” he said.
So Parekh and fellow parents, Gina Poblete and Jane Prem designed a program for their girls. They approached the school and told the principal that they would not need any resources and they would be the resources. The elementary school’s principal, Marie Reichart and her teachers agreed the program would be presented one Friday a month.
Last year, the group brainstormed, researched and visited other schools. Parekh said the existing programs they found were either too expensive, or felt more like marketing materials than core teaching materials.
The 3P’s created their own curriculum and also supplement with existing materials. While none are educators, they wanted to bring their various expertise into the equation: Poblete has an MBA in business, Prem used to run a small business and Parekh has a career in financial services.
“You don’t lecture the kids. We do more workshop fashion,” Parekh said. “... If we adults ... don’t teach these girls, advertisers will teach the relationship with money. The commercial world will capture them and we want them to have independent thinking.”
Public speaking practice
Last month’s “Money Matters/Business/Entrepreneurialism” module was the fourth of eight planned for the year. The others include “Presentation Skills & Public Speaking/Technology,” “One Planet/Sustainability/Multiculturalism” and “Personality Traits/Understanding Me & Others.”
All modules have a component of public speaking practice.
During the financial program, girls worked in small groups talking about what five things they would do if they had $1 million.
Isabella Thomas-Patterson, a fourth-grader, had this list: (1) plane or private jet; (2) limo; (3) mansion; (4) helicopter; (5) robot.
“Do you really need a private jet?” fourth-grader Lacy Nicholas asked Isabella.
Jennifer Smee, the language arts teacher, leaned in. “That’s a good question. Is that something you need in life?”
“Yeah,” said Briyanna Davis, a fourth-grader. “Because if you have a jet, do you need a limo?”
“These are all good things to think about,” Smee said. “I bet each one of us could look at our lists and see it’s not a ‘be,’ ” Smee said, referring to a previous lesson about “be” (what do you want to be), “have” (what do you want to have?) and “do” (what do you want to do because of those things?).
The other girls’ lists consisted of things such as a hamster, giving, charity, backstage passes, American Girl dolls and feeding families.
Smee said as a teacher, she and others were a little nervous at first to relinquish the classroom. But they have been very involved, see what they consider its benefits and next year will be taking the program on while the parents move on to other grades.
Casey Gallagher, a fifth-grader, said she likes the modules.
“They help us understand further into life what it’s going to be like,” she said.
Another part of the financial module was turning the girls into entrepreneurs. Parent and business consultant Kimberly Weir explained business costs and profits and then they made and designed locker magnets and necklaces to sell to Elms students.
Over a month, the girls sold out their goods and made about a $600 profit. After taking back their initial investments ($3 each), the girls voted to donate 50 percent of the profits to the Elms’ effort to bring more technology to the schools and use the remaining profits for a celebration party.
The modules are getting rave reviews from parents.
“This is brilliant,” parent Tricia Hammann said during the financial module. Hammann said her daughter, sixth-grader Ara-Leah, had told her about the modules, but until Hammann came to the second module to see for herself, she wasn’t sure what it was.
“I was astounded,” said Hammann, a music teacher who now volunteers with the program. “This is what schools should be about. Not about passing tests.”
Reichart, the principal and a 1999 Elms graduate, said the hope is to further expand the program to more of the elementary school next year and later perhaps try to bring elements to the middle and high schools.
Parekh said the 3P’s have briefly discussed whether to form a business for g2G, but that wasn’t their original intent. If they do something, it will most likely be forming a nonprofit and taking the funds for a greater good, he said.