The Bottom Line: Helping Students Build a Better Financial Future
How MƒA enables Amal Cummings to teach financial literacy — and change her students’ lives.
MƒA Master Teacher Amal Cummings was excited to see her former students from the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology graduating from high school and attending college. Then she learned that many of them were being forced to switch schools, or drop out of college altogether, because their family couldn’t pay their tuition contribution or other relatively small fees.
“I asked some students I have a relationship with: ‘Well, what is a tuition contribution?’” Cummings says. “Our students were in a position to change the trajectory of their entire family, but they were being knocked down pegs based on not having $2,000 or $900 or even $500, which seemed very small in the grand scheme of things.”
Cummings was taken aback — and motivated to help. “The stipend that comes with my MƒA fellowship enabled me to pay the family tuition contribution for some of my students to continue in undergrad,” she says. Inspired by the impact she was able to make on that smaller scale, Cummings decided to create an alumni association for her school that could raise funds to cover the cost of exams, tuition, and supplies alumni required to gain the continuing education and training necessary to launch their careers.
“I met with an accountant and an attorney, and we set up a nonprofit, so that we are able to fundraise and then give the money to our alums,” Cummings says. “I can only do so much as one person, but now everybody's able to come together so that we can impact the lives of tons of students.”
As part of the fundraising efforts, she was able to snag a table at a technology convention at the Javits Center, staffing it with talented students in order to attract interest for the alumni association from corporate donors. When one former student was thinking about entering the NYC Teaching Fellows program, the alumni association paid for her certification exams, and she’s now co-teaching alongside Cummings in her math classroom.
Along with her support for alumni, Cummings also took aim at a bigger problem she saw: All too many students lack the financial literacy and skills they need to manage their money, build wealth, and prepare themselves for the future. With the help of Zena Coles, a student teacher she worked with who is now an MƒA Master Teacher, she launched a financial fair, an annual event at her school that gives students a foundation for future financial wellness.
“Initially, they learned about credit — how it’s measured, how you build it, how you can end up having bad credit, or why you may need a co-signer even if you do have good credit,” Cummings says. Afterward, she encourages students to talk to their families or guardians about what they’ve learned. “Part of what’s come out of the financial fair is having conversations with their guardians, seeing if they can be added as an authorized user to a card, so that when they want to look into getting a car or a student loan, they have credit already established.”
At the fair, students chose to become experts in key financial topics such as mortgages, car loans, and buying and selling stocks. “Once their calculations and analysis were complete, they were able to share their findings,” Cummings says. “We'd invite people to come in with their families, and they'd talk to them about whatever their topic was, then rotate to be able to see their peers' topics.”
Cummings’s efforts have inspired her school to hold more events related to financial literacy, including a “College Knowledge” class that provides seniors with information about applying for financial aid and scholarships, writing essays, and other key topics related to college admissions. “The initiatives I’ve taken on have sparked a fire for the community in general,” she says.
Going forward, Cummings plans to continue developing the financial fair into a year-long effort, and possibly expand it into other Urban Assembly schools. She credits MƒA with providing the inspiration and support behind her expanding effort to help her school’s alumni and give students the basic financial knowledge and skills they need.
“Without the funds from MƒA planting the seed, I wouldn’t have been able to create opportunities for all these students, for the school, the curriculum — everything,” Cummings says.“I didn’t need anybody to give me a go-ahead, because I had the funds to help me out, the support of my student teacher, and the support of MƒA.”