ROCKVILLE – No longer will seventh grade social studies focus only on world history and cultures – by 2017, those students will also be choosing investment strategies and which apartment to rent.
On Monday the county Board of Education unanimously approved adding a fourth floor “finance park” to Thomas Edison High School of Technology, which is being revitalized along with Wheaton High School on the same campus. The finance park will serve as part of a financial literacy curriculum designed by Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, a nonprofit that has implemented a similar program in Fairfax County, Va. and is about to start one in Prince George’s county.
JA has already partnered with MCPS to bring five-hour and eight-hour curriculums to some sixth grade and high school classrooms, but this new curriculum will involve 15 hours of instruction. It will then culminate with a day at the finance park where each student will make hypothetical financial decisions.
“You must end your day with a balanced budget, and you will end your day with a new appreciation of just how hard it is to manage your finances,” said JA President and CEO Ed Grenier, presenting to the board. “This is unique, it’s innovative, it really grabs the students’ minds…the energy in the building is addictive.”
Over 90 percent of finance park graduates felt more confident in their decisions after the program, Grenier said.
The board also approved a $2.5 million contribution toward the construction costs from JA, funded by Capital One, which also needs to be approved by the county council. The board already approved the remaining $5 million for the renovations as part of the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for fiscal years 2015-2020.
James Song, director of facilities management for MCPS, presented the revised plan that included the fourth story. He said the Wheaton building should be finished in January 2016, the Edison building and finance park in August 2017 and the remaining site work and amenities in August 2018.
The finance park adds 25,031 square feet to the project, bringing the total to 501,306 square feet.
The operating costs for the school district per year are estimated to be about $228,000, according to Superintendent Joshua Starr.
Despite the board’s overall enthusiasm, they voiced some concerns about community input. Although MCPS hosted an evening meeting about the new design, fewer than a half dozen parents showed up.
“It’s been a consistent history that we have very low turnout, which was kind of a bit disappointing to us as well,” Song said. “But…if the project is approved and (the $2.5 million) is also approved through the county, our outreach plan really starts now.”
That was a concern for Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2), who said she felt that the notice of the community meeting on “schematic design” did not convey the goal of the renovations–to have space for a financial literacy program.
“I definitely support what we’re doing. I think it’s very necessary,” she said. “I do think that we need to potentially do a better job of reaching out to the community because based on the notification that did go out, I wouldn’t have understood what this meeting was about.”
Board member Michael Durso (District 5) also suggested that other meetings about the partnership should be marketed to a broader audience.
“(The potential community) is really the entire county. I think if we’re wanting to expose young people to what (Edison) offers, it almost seems to me to be a disconnect to just notify the immediate community,” Durso said.
Durso’s concerns were in line with the board’s desire to use the program as a way to expose middle school students to Edison and its vocational focus, including automotive and construction programs. JA is still figuring out how to fit a tour of Edison into the students’ day at the finance park.
Starr said he has been in talks with JA since as early as the 2011-2012 school year when he visited the program in Fairfax schools.