By Deanna C. White
Ohio was one of only thirteen states to earn a coveted "B" in a recent evaluation from Champlain College's Center for Financial Literacy. But while some states might be satisfied with an above-average financial literacy rating, Ohio CPAs won't settle for anything less than an "A" for their state's students.
That's why, just as students and teachers are settling into their classrooms this fall, CPAs across Ohio are also kicking their academic prep into high gear, getting ready to help fifth and six graders across the state earn an "A" in personal finance.
On November 13, over 1,500 CPAs will head into fifth and sixth grade classes across Ohio to teach FETCH!®, which stands for Financial Education Teaches Children Healthy Habits, a fun financial literacy game that teaches students how to budget and spend wisely, avoid debt, and save for a rainy day to ensure a healthy financial future.
The program, now in its fourth year, is presented to students by Ohio CPAs and other volunteers.
"Habits learned early in life translate to healthier adult behavior", said Scott Wiley, CAE, president and CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA). "The Ohio CPA Foundation worked with teachers to develop the FETCH! program, and it's an effective and fun way for kids to learn skills to manage money throughout life."
The board game FETCH! revolves around an imaginary dog park where teams of students take their new imaginary best friends. The students are then charged with determining how to meet the financial responsibilities associated with being a good pet owner.
With each roll of the dice, CPAs coach students on how to stay out of debt and put more money in the bank. They soon learn the responsibility "isn't just a walk in the park in this simulation of real-life choices", OSCPA officials say.
Last year, OSCPA volunteerLinda Zevnik, CPA, and her colleagues at Howard, Wershbale & Co. (HW&Co.) in Cleveland, Ohio, presented the game to fifth graders at Kenston Intermediate School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Zevnik said students had to account for the expenses of everyday pet ownership, like food, a leash, a collar, and dog bones. They also had to pay for grooming, vaccinations, and the unexpected, such as an emergency trip to the vet in the aftermath of a "skunk encounter."
Students earned money to buy pet essentials by teaching their pooches new tricks, passing obedience school, or hitting it big in a pet photo contest. They then honed their financial acumen as they tracked their expenses and earnings on a savings account register.
At the end of the game, Zevnik said, the team with all the required dog supplies and the most money in their savings account won the game and was declared "Top Dog."
Kenston fifth grade teacher Stephanie Olup said FETCH!, and the lessons modeled by Zevnik and her colleagues, provided a concrete, child-friendly vehicle for students to begin learning about essential financial skills, such as balancing a checkbook, keeping a budget, and saving for emergencies.
They're skills, Olup believes, both educators and parents need to teach their children – especially in today's economy where personal debt is skyrocketing and the national debt continues to escalate.
"Quite honestly, when we look at our world today, we can see how our money management skills have [disintegrated] over the years", Olup said. "This program teaches children to understand the importance of money, budgeting, and saving. It teaches them you can't live in a world of credit. It helps them realize 'I have to earn my own money to purchase the items I need.'"
Recent research backs her theory.
According to OSCPA, in a survey released in 2012 by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 56 percent of adults admit they don't have a budget. In addition, 39 percent carry credit card debt from month to month, and two in five say they're saving less than they were a year ago.
CPA volunteers and teachers alike say they hope financial literacy efforts like the FETCH! program, serve as a springboard for financial discussions at the family dinner table - discussions which are few and far between, according to a recent US survey commissioned by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).
According to the AICPA survey, the majority of parents don't engage their children in significant conversations about money. Only 13 percent of parents have daily talks about finance with their children, while three in ten parents never or rarely talk to their children about finances.
"In one sense [FETCH!] is just a game and it's fun, but it also makes finance an everyday reality for children. Programs like this give parents a jump start on financial conversations and give the children a head start on understanding money and the importance of planning for the future", Zelnick said.
FETCH! was created by OSCPA and its charitable affiliate, Ohio CPA Foundation, with guidance from elementary teachers and a curriculum developer. It includes a testing component to determine if students have gained a basic understanding of financial terms.
Ohio's ranking from Champlain comes from a recent requirement for Ohio high schools to integrate financial literacy and economics into curriculum as a graduation requirement.