Program Profile: DREAM 21st CCLC Teaches Financial Literacy through Community Partnerships

The West Chicago Elementary School District 33 21st CCLC, also known as the Determination, Respect, Education, Action, and Motivation (DREAM) afterschool program, supports the health, safety, and well-being of students and their families through a range of academic and enrichment activities. Serving some 250 students at three elementary and one middle school site, the 21st CCLC aims to provide students with the skills and learning experiences they will need to be successful in all stages of their lives. The team sees financial literacy as a vital component of the life skills that students acquire in the DREAM program.

To teach financial literacy, the DREAM program employs a range of activities, resources, and partnerships. These include a collaboration with a local branch of Republic Bank, where students learn about financial literacy and savings through games and activities. Through a partnership with the Guarrine Group, a local family consulting group, students have participated in a financial literacy simulation called “The Village.” The activity consists of 10–12 stations, including a bank, a car dealership, a real estate agency, a grocery store, and other businesses. As students move among the stations, they make financial decisions, learning about spending, budgets, goals, and saving.

Junior Achievement, an organization that aims to teach youth about financial literacy and entrepreneurship, is another important partner for the DREAM program. Elementary students participate in the More than Money program, where they learn financial vocabulary and concepts through activities and games. Middle school students participate in the It’s My Future program, which teaches financial literacy while also preparing students for the working world. Trained Junior Achievement volunteers, who are community business leaders, deliver the program. As a result, students learn about local businesses, in addition to financial literacy and career readiness.

DREAM afterschool instructors also provide some of the financial literacy activities. With some of the partnerships, 21st CCLC staff have learned about the financial literacy programs and have either led or assisted in the delivery of these programs; however, partner volunteers and employees are still a key part of the programs. The DREAM staff also infuse financial literacy through activities like The Allowance Game, a board game that teaches students how to use money and count change. One of the 21st CCLC sites also uses play money as part of its behavior reward system. Students can earn DREAM dollars for staying on task and completing homework and then spending their “dollars” in an exclusive store where they can buy prizes.

The 21st CCLC has also used some of the financial literacy programming to support school-day goals. School staff and leaders had wanted to focus more on financial literacy and even offer Junior Achievement during the school day, but could not make it work with the existing schedule. Teachers have been pleased to see this learning opportunity offered through the afterschool program, especially when students begin making connections to school-day lessons. “Students have brought their excitement over the financial literacy lessons back to the classroom and had conversations about the activities,” says DREAM assistant director Susan Castrogiovanni. “All of the financial literacy offerings provide opportunities for students to connect to math, reading, listening skills.”

The 21st CCLC team works closely with their community partners to ensure that everyone has a positive experience. For example, the afterschool program communicates clear expectations and also provides feedback to partners. The 21st CCLC supports partners by making sure they have everything they need for an activity, helping with setup, managing behavior challenges, and remaining on hand to ensure things go smoothly. Castrogiovanni notes that this support and communication is important to a partnership’s success. She also stresses the importance of letting partners know how much you value their service and the relationship. “It is important to really show appreciation [by supporting volunteers] and to also have students express thanks in person and with thank you cards,” she says.

For 21st CCLC programs that are interested in offering financial literacy, Castrogiovanni notes that successful partnerships can strengthen ties among families, the business community, and the afterschool program. She encourages 21st CCLC programs to showcase these connections in local newsletters and on social media so that the community can see the benefits of working together in support of local students and families.