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Financial Literacy Assembly Flops On A Large Scale

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

by Sloane Moriarty

November 2nd. FTX, a leading cryptocurrency exchange company led by founder Sam Bankman-Fried began to tank after a balance sheet revealed that FTX's sister company, Alameda Research, was run primarily off of a FTX token, alarming FTX investors, and leading them to pull out of their investments.

November 11th. FTX files for bankruptcy. $400 billion in crypto-value across all different tokens is lost.

November 12th. Bankman-Fried is arrested in the Bahamas at the hands of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

November 14th. Students at Point Loma High School walked into their English classes expecting a regular day, but were instead shuffled into the auditorium for a presentation on financial literacy, centered around cryptocurrency.

Rewind to a few weeks before the assembly. Students and staff at Point Loma had been searching for ways to boost students' knowledge regarding the financial world. So naturally, the PLHS administration was thrilled with the idea of enlightening their students on money management and crypto.

PLHS ASB advisor Amy Denney and Principal Kelly Lowry were the first to hear about the potential for organizing this event. They received an email; it’s subject line read, “High School Nation, Free Financial Literacy Assembly,” with a promise of explaining “cryptocurrency, budgeting, savings, and credit,” along with a link that would be provided to schools for a free financial literacy curriculum that “doesn’t require them to sign up for anything.” After receiving this information, Denney and Lowry, during their Monday morning administration meeting, approved the assembly.

Many students looked forward to this opportunity as they began to take their seats in the auditorium, myself in particular. Last year I wrote an article for the paper about the lack of financial education in the school system, so I was eager to see the steps my own school was taking to resolve this pressing issue. President of Point Loma High School’s very own Financial Literacy Club, Asher Christian, explained his mutual vested interest in this cause.

“I hoped that it would be beneficial to all the students on campus as far as learning about financial literacy…and bringing some of the information I teach in my club to the greater Point Loma population,” he said.

Instead, what the aspiring Pointers received was a low-quality, dumbed down, advertisement pitch for a “next-generation banking” app called STEP. To start off, the presenter shared slides that centered around cryptocurrency, and then students were asked to join a Kahoot and answer related questions, the winner receiving fifty dollars in their STEP app. However, to everyone’s dismay, the bulk of the assembly was taken up by the presenter’s spiel on STEP, and by having the students download, and sign up for this app. To incentivize students to register for the app, they were told that the school with the most sign-ups for this app would be eligible for a $5,000 award. Ultimately, students left the assembly confused on the promised free financial curriculum with no greater knowledge on financial literacy, and a new app on their home screens that the majority have already deleted by now. On top of all that, many crypto-curious students were left confused and frustrated at the timing of this presentation. Why encourage financially uneducated and easily-swayed minds to join the crypto-world just days after it quite literally dove off the deep end?

This assembly, among other presentations brought into high schools nationwide, was presented by High School Nation, a company whose website states that they work to “bring schools and organizations together to produce engaging, unforgettable experiences,” and to “provide programs that benefit students, schools, and their communities.” In theory, this all sounds beneficial and educational, and that’s why Program Manager and PE Health and Athletics Officer for San Diego Unified, Stacey Srsic, (pictured at right on the STEP website) sent the email about this assembly opportunity out to ASB teachers and principals in the district. Srsic has had a longstanding relationship with High School Nation, and trusted them to provide her school district with a productive and enlightening program, just as Denney and Lowry trusted Scric to direct them towards a valuable assembly. When reached for comment, she explained how High School Nation had recently partnered with STEP, and STEP had asked her to serve as a STEP Advisory Committee volunteer member to get an educator's perspective on things. However, during Srisc’s time on the committee, she remarked that they had only asked her once to review something. This review was of, to little surprise, the ever promised free-curriculum, and she claimed that it was fantastic. However, students weren’t so lucky with their experience.

After hearing complaints from not just PLHS, but other schools as well, regarding the assembly and the lack of educational value in place of what she thought was supposed to be a fulfilling financial lit program, she said, “I think this whole app thing is getting in the way of what could potentially be great free curriculum modules, which is frustrating.”

This is exactly the sentiment I expressed to the CEO of High School Nation Jimmy Cantillion (pictured below) when we spoke just last week. Seeking a better understanding of why STEP needed to be involved in this curriculum whatsoever, he explained that they use it as a platform to track the sign-ups for their curriculum, and that the financial literacy program lives within this app. As proud as he was about the free modules he created for students' use, Cantillon, after receiving complaints, reflected that the assembly didn’t resonate in the way it should’ve.

“October- November was the first time that we presented that assembly and we got a ton of feedback, good…and critical…the default assumption is that everyone is always trying to sell you something…the thing is that nobody’s buying anything, it’s 100% free,” he said.

However, the real issue lies in the fact that although STEP may not have explicitly sold students anything during the assembly, kids were told to download an app, thus sharing their information with a source they had no previous knowledge of. Additionally, the $5,000 sum of money wasn’t granted to the schools with the most completions of the curriculum, but to those with the most sign-ups for it. How does that reflect High School Nation’s prioritization of actually educating their audience? It doesn’t. It shows that they simply care about the number of STEP downloads they received.

After receiving criticism regarding their program, changes are being made. Cantillion admitted, “Over the holidays and in January we were like maybe we need to make the messaging more clear…now our presentation does not cover crypto, and we think that might have been just a little confusing and with crypto being so in flux right now I think people felt really weird about it.”

As much as it’s great to hear that there are alterations being made to this presentation, it suggests the idea that Point Loma was simply used as a guinea pig for a half-hearted and half-completed project that wasn’t even close to fined tuned enough for anyone to see, yet alone impressionable teenagers.

Although these high schoolers may just be kids, their time is valuable, and they entrust their education system with providing them something of value, and this presentation just wasn’t that. From here on out administration on every level should go through a deep vetting process with assemblies to ensure they are what they say they are. As for High School Nation, they need to work on their partnerships, and understand that even immature teenagers realize when they’re being pitched to. Next time don’t waste our time with something everyone knows isn’t worthwhile.


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