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Financial Literacy classes give students early insights into managing money

These investors ran the gamut from bold financial adventurers to staid and patient financial pros.

Some of them opted to put their money into mutual funds, while others speculated about the wisdom of investing in real estate. Some, who had proudly identified themselves as aggressive risk takers, thought about more risky propositions that carried the potential of great payoffs; others, content with the security of a sound investment, meditated on the steady and dependable payoff of careful financial planning.

No matter their specific monetary plan, the entire group shared a common trait: they were all fifth graders at Sagebrush Elementary.

During a specific session of the school's Financial Literacy course, the students tackled financial questions that many college students wouldn't understand. The class, designed to give students a sense of financial literacy and wisdom at an early age, delved into high-concept lessons about the best way to manage money. Students debated the relative wisdom of investing; they discussed the most advantageous ways to diversify. Such debate is at the heart of the Financial Literacy classes at Sagebrush, which were funded through a grant from the Greenwood Village-based insurance and annuity company Great-West Financial with support from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation.

"We are at the beginning phases of the classwork," said Cathy Logan, the teacher who led the fifth-grade course at Sagebrush earlier this month. "These students understand risk. They're kids and they take risks all of the time.

"Any time you talk about money, it's helpful for the kids."

That's the core mission of the Financial Literacy course series. The classes begin at the elementary level with lessons about basic investments, diversification and other themes. From there, the students progress to coursework regarding mutual funds and other high-level financial concepts.

Representatives from Great-West Financial said the coursework in the Cherry Creek School District has already provided an instructional model that could easily be used in other schools and other districts.

"We talk to customers every day and see a need for increased financial literacy … So we're taking a step toward helping this issue by partnering with districts like Cherry Creek to support financial literacy in K-12 classrooms across the state," said Christina Frantz, corporate social responsibility senior manager Great-West Financial. "Financial literacy is the first step to financial stability."

Frantz added that the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, along with teachers and students in the district, have played a key role in creating the template for the program.

"The Foundation has been incredibly helpful, and we have formed the blueprint for how we help a school district," Frantz said.

At the classroom level, that effort has translated into elementary, middle and high school students who have a long-term perspective regarding finances. The fifth-graders in Logan's classroom were thinking far beyond the sums needed to buy lunch for the day. They were speculating about the value of real estate in the coming decades; they were engaged in serious discussions about the relative value of stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

"We do our kids a real disservice by not talking about money," Logan said. "I want my students to be as financially savvy as possible.

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