Financial literacy instruction can improve student attendance [Letter]

In his recent commentary, "Chronic absences plague Baltimore" (Sept. 5), Jonathon Rondeau zeros in on a problem that has vexed principals and teachers alike — chronic school absences. The numbers put forth by Mr. Rondeau are staggering with roughly 21,250 Baltimore City students, one-fourth of the student population, missing 20 or more days of school a year. That is unacceptable.

One thing is for certain, it will take a concerted effort to reverse the trend. Parents, teachers, school administrators, government officials, community leaders and, of course, students, all must share in the effort. While challenging, reducing student absences is a solvable problem that takes hard work and ingenuity as Mr. Rondeau can attest. Our organization, Stocks in the Future, is working to improve the attendance and performance of middle school students in underserved areas who have high absentee rates. How? Through a partnership with Johns Hopkins University and support from the Bernstein Family Foundation we have developed a curriculum that teaches students financial literacy skills with a focus on investing.

While learning these skills each week, Stocks in the Future students receive incentives, one being a "SIF Dollar" for each week of perfect attendance. These dollars are used to purchase shares of publicly-traded companies that become theirs when claimed a year after high school graduation and turning 18. Students have the opportunity to learn real life skills while receiving encouragement to stay in school.

The Stocks in the Future program is being taught in 16 schools in Baltimore and one in Washington, D.C. to more than 1,000 students. To date, we have 1,018 Stocks in the Future alumni. We are seeing results. We have found that students who participate in Stocks in the Future in 6th, 7th and 8th grades attended school 10 days more over the three-year period than students who were not involved in the program.

Our program is starting to catch on as more teachers are witnessing the transformation of students who regularly missed school. It is in everyone's interest, as Mr. Rondeau observes, that students attend school. If we want young men and women to find jobs, raise families, pay taxes and grow to become leaders, they must be at their desks ready to learn.

Marcus Aiello, Baltimore

The writer is president of the board of Stocks in the Future.

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