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Dallas Students Learn To Manage Money At Financial Leadership Conference

Stella Chavez
Eleazar Avalos, a Fidelity analyst and graduate of Dallas' Thomas Jefferson High School, teaches the class about saving money.

Young people want to spend money on cool gadgets and clothes, but many of them don’t know how to save up for that. Some Dallas high school students are learning how to manage their money through a leadership conference hosted by Fidelity Investments.  The school hopes the students will be able to influence their peers' financial knowledge.

At Thomas Jefferson High School, 120 students participated in the school’s fourth year of the conference at the company's Westlake campus. 

According to the financial experts, less than 30% of young adults understand basic financial concepts, like interest rates and inflation. That’s a big reason the school has returned to this training over the past few years. 

Credit Stella Chavez / KERA
Fidelity Investments
A student during the leadership conference presents to the class.

Instructors start out the conference asking students to share their name and what they want to buy for themselves.  

The juniors and seniors weren’t shy about what’s on their wish list. Katherine, one of the students, said she wants to buy a new house. Fellow student Zocali said she wants to buy a Tesla Motor S. 

Students who attend the conference are established leaders on campus. They are taught about financial literacy by Fidelity employees and are charged with setting an example for their classmates.

This year, the conference has taken on greater meaning. The school was devastated by an EF-3 tornado in October, so students have been temporarily moved to Edison Middle School. The district plans to renovate Thomas Jefferson, which will cost about $82 million dollars.

Vice Principal Evelyn Perette said she’s excited for the students who attend the leadership conference to evangelize what they learned.

“They’re super excited,” she said. “Not only are you going to be trained, but the challenge is you’re going to go back to school and you’re going to train your peers and train your family.” 

Credit Fidelity Investments
Students take notes in class.

Thomas Jefferson has a large population of English Language Learners — about half of incoming ninth-graders have been in the country a year or less. Most of the students are from Mexico and Central America.

Eleazar Avalos is an analyst with Fidelity Investments who graduated from the school in 1997.

“We really want to stress that finance is really important. It’s a really important aspect of everybody’s life," he said. "If you manage your finances well, pretty much everything comes with it.”

Avalos first moved to the U.S. when he started high school. He didn’t know any English, and says that experience helps him relate to the students in this training, like Flor Gonzales. 

“Everybody thinks like the present, not the future … I think it’s important because we need to think about college, if we want to go to college, have the money to be independent,” she said. 

Flor told her fellow classmates about the time she saved up hundreds of dollars only to misplace it all — a story she hopes will teach her friends a valuable lesson.

“I think it’s important because you need to know how to manage your money, responsible, not like me,” she said laughing. “I think it’s very important because I really need the money that I lost.”

Jennifer Gray, senior manager of community relations at Fidelity Investments, says teaching kids these life skills is rewarding.

“We believe that a strong foundation of financial education is important for all students to be successful and it is something our employees are passionate about," Gray said. "So to have the opportunity to go in and share what they know with the students is really meaningful for us."

And when students eventually teach their peers what they’ve learned, that will be meaningful too.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.