Eight area banks that have long supported financial literacy in Massachusetts public schools are working together to bring a popular event to students virtually this spring.

High school students across Massachusetts can participate in the Credit for Life Fair by using creditforlife.org — a website now being created. The goal is to have it available by the end of March, organizers said.

With the idea it will be a part of a high school class, the website is being designed by Stackpole & Partners of Newburyport, in collaboration with the Institution for Savings, Cape Cod 5, Bay Coast Bank, HarborOne Bank, The Savings Bank, Rockland Trust, Westfield Bank, Country Bank, and FitMoney.org, a not-for-profit financial literacy organization.

The Credit for Life Fair, a half-day event where high school students assume the roles of 25-year-old adults and spend their "paychecks" on everything they need to live, has been popular in many Massachusetts public schools for more than a decade, according to the banks involved. Many banks and credit unions throughout the state host these events, using local resources and volunteers. The State Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment has encouraged more fairs in recent years by making grants available to schools to participate.

The pandemic has brought most of the events to a halt. While several groups, including the Institution for Savings, shifted to offer virtual fairs, participation was has been down. Organizers connected last summer to explore collaboration on a better virtual experience in 2021 given the limits the pandemic placed on large in-person events. They enlisted FitMoney.org. Eventually the group expanded to include other banks which pooled money to pay for the creation of the website, with FitMoney.org serving as fiscal agent.

“One fact that we all agree on was that the Credit for Life Fair is one of the most important and impactful events we do every year,” said Mary Anne Clancy, senior vice president of marketing and communications at the Institution for Savings, one of the founding sponsors of the fair. “With Massachusetts legislation enacted in 2019 authorizing financial literacy to be taught in public schools, we know educators might appreciate this type of program. ... So we thought, why not collaborate and deliver one common tool that all schools can use to teach the same lessons?”

David Floreen, former Massachusetts Bankers Association senior vice president, said in the release, “Our long-term hope is that we can eventually go back to in-person fairs. In the interim, this website is a tool that educators and others can use right now, with the support of banks and other community organizations. Teachers are being asked to do so much right now, and this is one way we think we can help.”

Only six states in the country require high school students to take at least one semester-long personal finance class before graduation, according to Next Gen Personal Finance’s 2019-2020 progress report, and 15 other states have personal finance in another course. The remaining states, including Massachusetts, don’t require students to have any personal finance education before graduating.

In early 2019, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation that allows state education officials to establish standards related to financial literacy. Schools can incorporate the standards into their existing curriculum in subjects such as math, business and social sciences. It is unclear how much progress has been made on this initiative given the constraints put on schools by the pandemic.

Development of the Credit for Life Fair website is in its final stages and will be tested by a group of educators and others in the next month. The group hopes to have the site ready for use by high schools and others by the end of March. The group is also establishing a 501c3 nonprofit that will allow it to raise money and plan for future school financial literacy initiatives similar to creditforlife.org.

 

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