By: Ron Maxey
April 13, 2010
Tom Davidson has trekked across the country touting not just a product, but a promise - that financial literacy will lead to a better life for students and the country.
The former Maine legislator-turned-entrepreneur described the interactive learning and gaming curriculum - which has been in use for several months at Hernando and Olive Branch high schools in DeSoto County - as a way to educate the coming generation of leaders and financial decision-makers on important but often-dry topics.
Through a series of 10 modules that allow students to participate in a game-like environment, the program introduces such concepts as credit reports, subprime loans, consumer fraud, and how the stock market and the Federal Reserve System work.
It's not the first financial education program to come along, but those speaking Monday said it's one of the most promising initiatives they've seen to teach lessons that are more important than ever in today's troubled financial environment.
"Whether we like it or not, money dictates a lot of our decisions," DeSoto County Schools Supt. Milton Kuykendall said, noting that the school district is wrestling with the prospect of cutbacks and layoffs because of state money problems. "This kind of education will determine who's successful and who's not successful."
The Community Foundation is a public charity incorporated in 2002 to focus on an eight-county Northwest Mississippi region that includes DeSoto County. Education is one of the group's priorities, and it was able to bring the EverFi program to 30 schools in its service area through a $150,000 gift.
State Sen. Robert Jackson of Marks became involved with the EverFi program through his work with the Quitman County Development Organization and helped bring it to the region.
"It's not good just for kids, but for young adults and people my age," he said.
Davidson has worked business and community leaders throughout the nation to adopt his program, garnering some star power in the process. Davidson said names like golfer Tiger Woods and actor Brad Pitt are helping underwrite the program in some areas.
"To me, this is the future of education," Davidson said, "where communities are coming together, the private sector is stepping in, technology is being incorporated - not replacing, but helping to grow - and you've got students who are grabbing on."
His goal is to make the program common enough that being "EverFi Certified" will be instantly recognizable and make those who have it targets for lower interest rates and better terms because of their financial knowledge.
Teachers using the program laud it for making high school juniors and seniors more savvy to, say, credit card offers and the risks.
"This is so great," Hernando teacher Kristine Ackerman said. "They (students) need this, and I am just so grateful that these guys have brought this to us. No matter where they go, this is information that they need and information that they can use."
Jake Field, one of the Hernando students who has already worked his way through the curriculum and earned certification, gave his endorsement.
"Everybody has money problems," he said. "From here on out, I think every student in this country should know this."