Pockets Change: Using hip hop to empower K12 financial literacy

Pockets Change: Using hip hop to empower K12 financial literacy
How does this initiative heighten the focus on financial literacy in schools? Source: Shutterstock

Blending elements of hip hop pedagogy with the framework of financial education may sound like an abstract idea to some educators, but to others, it’s music to their ears.

Leading classrooms full of easily distracted students means teachers are always on the hunt for new and innovative ways to keep learning spirits alive.

And when they’re teaching a subject like finance, it’s fair to say that the curriculum requires a rich and engaging edge – something different to make sure that financial literacy is fun.

Framing hip hop and finance as a match made in mathematics, Pockets Change (PC), a team of two educators and one certified financial planner from Brooklyn, New York, is enriching students’ lives with their tailored workshops.

Already, PC has worked with numerous programmes and universities all over America, creating and sharing lessons, workshops and professional development to educate and empower students, teachers and families.

But for Pockets Change, starting money conversations is just the beginning. They believe that financial literacy is about creating awareness and understanding, building financial resilience and equipping today’s youth with the tools needed to reach their goals and overcome obstacles.

Acknowledging this as a necessity for the young learners of today, I caught up with the co-founder of Pockets Change, Andrea Ferrero, to further discuss how hip hop helps sustain the future of financial education.

With over a decade of experience in teaching, coaching educators and designing award-winning educational programmes and products, Andrea was first inspired to start Pockets Change almost a decade ago with her co-founder and certified financial planner, Pamela Capalad.

“While teaching finances at a private summer camp, we wondered why we didn’t learn about this stuff when we were kids. And, how could finance education be more accessible?” Andrea explains.

The question then brought to light that money is the last taboo, not likely to be talked about by parents, peers or education professionals.

“When it is taught, the emphasis is often on rote facts, but counting coins doesn’t lead to conscious consumption. That’s where Pockets Change has evolved to empower K12 and college students in building self-awareness and navigating financial decision making with their personal values in mind.”

Calculating the value of hip hop and financial literacy

For the minds behind Pockets Change, hip hop pedagogy focuses on self-identity and authentic expression as part of an inclusive community.

That’s why it’s the underlying instructional approach to all of PC’s activities, taking them beyond budgeting and giving students’ autonomy in building habits that align with their goals and values.

“In action, learners take the stage to design better banks, use rhythm to ace an interview, and approach obstacles with financial habits and strategies that resonate with their personal identities. One of my favourite moments in our K12 and college workshops is hearing students pitch ideas for earning income.”

Throughout a PC workshop, students collaborate with peers and put performance skills into practice. Injecting their innovations back into the real world, the organisation has students pitch, then create and run a real-world dog-walking business, local music lessons, multi-lingual babysitting services and much more.

“That’s the power and beauty of hip hop pedagogy; it inspires individual creativity and communal collaboration.”

Supporting creativity through engaging workshops

Pockets Change workshops provide a space for youth and adults to tackle tough topics and explore personal values and goals.

For Andrea, educators are some of the most creative, curious and courageous professionals she’s ever met, and that’s why she wants to help them embrace and integrate financial literacy in schools.

“I love when our students and educators share how they’re using the concepts we cover to advocate for themselves. One of our middle school teachers recently shared that in the last year she’s gained more control of her personal finances and feels more confident in talking and teaching the topic in her classroom.

“I’ve had a six-year-old girl come into a workshop and share she’s bad at money. By the end of the day, she was discussing how she enjoys spending and her ideas for selling self-made stickers to make money,” adds Andrea.

By embracing the creative economy, educational institutions have the chance to prepare young learners for a changing world and teachers can optimise students’ talents.

In conversation with a group of educators at a conference last week, it was wonderful to hear one teacher share that after 21 years in education, she’s committed more than ever to prepare her kids to be part of an ever-evolving economy.

“We discussed the importance of communication skills, understanding and expressing personal talents, and strategies for working with others. Each of these skills connects to core elements of finance education and hip hop pedagogy. At the end of our conversation she smiled and said: We all need this. I do, our kids do, our communities do. This isn’t just a life skill, it’s a life necessity.”

Underlining the importance of financial literacy in K12 and college education communities, Andrea believes that financial education impacts more than just our wallets.

It cultivates critical thinking, taps into social-emotional learning, provides a real-world context for problem-solving and advocates for a better future for our youth, ourselves and our communities.

“Recent studies show that people start forming our money habits as early as 7 years old, and those habits inform our life-long relationship with money. I’m seeing a shift from schools listing an occasional finance class as an elective to educators embracing it as an essential topic for K12 and higher education classrooms,” she notes.

Focused on changing the way finance is taught, Pockets Change is not about learning facts or formulas, it’s about starting conversations, cultivating resilience and catalysing advocacy.

Over the last decade, PC has driven the change through strong partnerships with schools, nonprofits and government agencies, and in the coming year, they’ll continue to expand the impact of their workshops.

Ultimately, it’s their aim to inspire youth and educators around the world to find their pocket – that personal rhythm where they flow through their academic ventures and reach their personal goals.

And for Andrea, she believes that “when teachers and students think of finance, it’s not with stress but rather with optimism for what is possible for their future and for their communities…”

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