Financial Literacy and Theatre Arts Education at Hartford Stage’s Financial Literacy Program Offers a Fun, Interesting Way to Learn By Christopher Nicastro, Marketing Intern What do drama games, soccer balls, and lawn mowers have to do with personal finances? For sixth grade students at Carmen Arace Intermediate School, they add up to a new and interesting way to learn how to balance your budget. Hartford Stage and Simsbury Bank partnered to help provide a week-long educational program aimed at helping sixth grade students learn about financial literacy. The program, which was held in June at Carmen Arace Intermediate School in Bloomfield, Connecticut, was taught by Hartford Stage’s Associate Director of Education Nina Pinchin. Hartford Stage’s financial literacy program began in 2011 when representatives from Wells Fargo observed Hartford Stage’s Connections program, which teaches literacy through theatre. Wells Fargo and Hartford Stage teamed up to design a program that would teach financial literacy through theatre. The program has been growing and evolving ever since. “We’ve taught the program now a number of times,” Pinchin explained. “Once we piloted the curriculum in the classroom, we were able to make revisions based on how the program worked with students. What we’ve found is that not a lot of schools are teaching financial literacy, at least at the younger grade levels, and many educators and banks are very interested in what we are doing.” Wells Fargo funded the pilot of the program, and served hundreds of students in Hartford and Meriden. Simsbury Bank became involved with the financial literacy program for the first time this year, allowing Hartford Stage to serve students in a new school inside their service area. “Simsbury Bank put us in touch with the Superintendent of Bloomfield Schools and the principal and faculty at Carmen Arace. Everyone involved was excited by the innovative approach of the program from the very first meeting,” explained Jennifer Roberts, Director of Education at Hartford Stage. The program was taught in six 6th grade classrooms at Carmen Arace Intermediate School in June. Jessica Buchenholz, a sixth grade teacher whose class participated, noted that the program “helps to teach students skills that they will need to understand for the remainder of their life [such as] budgeting, saving, deposit and withdrawal, the money cycle, and understanding how your income and budget have to balance. We think it is great that these topics are introduced at a younger age rather than waiting until high school or later.” During the five days of the program, the Hartford Stage teaching artist introduces students to the money cycle, banks and treasury, saving, budgeting, earning power, and credit and responsibility. Theatre tools include tableau (frozen images), dialogue, improvisation, and other kinesthetic activities. The program was awarded the 2014 Excellence in Financial Literacy Education (EIFLE) Award for Children’s Education Program of the Year by the Institute for Financial Literacy. Although the financial literacy program is unorthodox in its approach, Pinchin noted, “We know that drama is a good model for teaching lots of things. It pulls students out of their normal academic setting and engages students with sometimes difficult subject matter.” The program’s curriculum allows the students to be on their feet and active and helps students learn about things they might not believe are important at a young age. “The use of drama is a great starter for the students,” Buchenholz added, “The activities help to engage the students and make the topics true to life.” Teaching these concepts to students at such a young age can be a daunting task when considering they have yet to be completely exposed to world of finances. The on-your-feet, active approach allows students to have a better grasp of what is being taught. “The students understood the financial vocabulary when they were able to act out the actual sequences,” said Buchenholz. The program also helps students think about their financial futures through goal setting. Some of the goals students set were typical for sixth grade students—examples included “being a better soccer player” or “be good at advanced math”—but Pinchin helped the students take those goals and look at them from a financial angle. Pinchin prompted the students to consider that in order to achieve those goals they might need to save money for new soccer equipment or algebra textbooks. The students then made budgets to map out how they could save money to help pave the way for those goals. “When the students were creating a budget for their specific goal, their task was to identify ways to earn income as a sixth grade student. They were focusing on ways to earn money such as doing chores, mowing, shoveling, babysitting, etc.,” Buchenholz explained. “The focus was on the students’ age right now, and the ability to earn money rather than to just receive money from a family member.” Education is a central part of Hartford Stage’s mission, and the financial literacy program is just one of the theatre’s many education programs. During the 2014/2015 season, the education department served more than 19,000 students, adults and educators in 190 different schools and 72 different towns and cities.