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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Recess, Circle Time, Financial Planning: Learning College Savings In Kindergarten

Two elementary schools in Richardson ISD have debuted new lessons this fall that spotlight everything from landing a good job to planning for college. And a free savings account is part of the deal.

You know the expression "All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten?" Kids at Arapaho Classical Magnet can say that and mean it.

These kindergarten students are talking about salaries and budgeting. And they really get it.

Jack Golub, who's 5,explains the importance of putting money away.

“You can give it to the bank and they’d keep it, so no one can get it," he says.

Planning For The Future

Saving money, especially for higher education, is the central message of this pilot program. It’s called "Dollars For College" and it kicked off this school year at Arapaho and Dobie Elementary School.

Woody Widrow is executive director of RAISE Texas, one of the nonprofits that engineered the program.

“We want to have all children understand how to make good financial decisions," he says.

The lessons are one important part of the program. The real world component is offering every kindergarten parent the opportunity to open a free college savings account through First Convenience Bank.

Free Savings, Extra Incentives

The United Way starts things off with a seed deposit -- $25 to $50. Once parents contribute, the United Way kicks in up to $50 more.

“Some research has shown that if you can save up to $500, you’re three to five times more likely to go to college," Widrow says.

That shows half the battle is a savings mindset. Once parents see they can successfully put money away for the future, the process of applying to a four-year college, two-year college or trade school seems less daunting.

“We’re hoping that kids and parents attitudes, perception and behavior change, and that they start to understand that it is possible for many Texans, especially low-income Texans, to be able to go to college, and to get a degree and get a good paying job," Widrow says.

Opening An Account Makes It 'Very Real' For Kids

Getting kids and parents engaged early is a good way to do that.

Gina Buffington has been a kindergarten teacher for 22 years.

“The experience of opening accounts really did make it very real for them. More than half of my students now have a college savings account," she says.

Buffington says the students connected with the lessons about saving money, understanding the difference between "wants" and "needs," and earning an income.

Which is a good thing, since 5-year-old financial titan Jack Golub has already chosen a profession.

“Well, I like veterinarians and I also like animals!” he says.

So that’s four years for an undergraduate degree, and four years for his DVM. It sounds like the future Dr. Golub is up for the challenge.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.