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Bernalillo High students learn ABCs of financial literacy

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Bernalillo High School junior Alyssa Fontaine is planning to attend college in a few years, but she has no idea how she’ll pay for tuition, books, fees and other expenses.

“I know a little but not enough to help myself,” she said. “I’m maybe not at Square 1, but probably Square 1.5.”

The 17-year-old decided she needs to change that.

Alyssa Fontaine, 17, listens during a financial literacy course at Bernalillo High School on Monday. The free summer class covers 18 modules including investing, taxes and paying for college. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

This summer, Fontaine is taking a financial literacy course offered free for 25 Bernalillo High students through a new partnership with Nusenda Credit Union.

The class has been taught in Albuquerque Public Schools for the past three years, but this is the first time Nusenda has brought it to Bernalillo. Both districts offer credit to students who complete the course.

“This curriculum is aligned with Common Core standards and is quite extensive,” said Shana Runck, Nusenda’s assistant vice president of community relations and financial capability. “It is good to start talking about finances at this age. … We’ve found there is a lack of information and misinformation.”

Over the next three weeks, the students will cover 18 modules, including investing, taxes, identity theft and college costs. There are even lessons on how to apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy a car or home and plan for retirement.

Hope Montoya-Encinias, a Bernalillo High math teacher who is leading the class, said it provides “a taste of adulthood.”

“I want (students) to have the skills and abilities to go out after high school and be successful community members and have the resources they need to make good financial decisions,” she said. “These are long-term things they need to know.”

The class kicked off Monday with a discussion about identifying “wants” versus “needs,” the key to successful budgeting.

Montoya-Encinias reviewed a list of items students wrote in marker on large sheets of paper: a jeep, Play Station 4 and kitten belongs in the “wants” category; water, food and transportation are needs.

“Discipline is important in building wealth,” Montoya-Encinias told the class. “You get money and you want to go to Starbucks or buy things, but you should save.”

Montoya-Encinias broke down her own family’s budget, joking that she has much more to keep track of than the average teenager.

LaMont Pacheo, 17, left, and Antonio Quintana, 17, write answers to questions on the video screen during a financial literacy course at Bernalillo High School. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Runck said she hopes the students will go home and talk to their parents about what they’ve been learning.

“Many families need these skills,” Runck added.

LaMont Pacheco, 17, said money is always tight in his house, so he is excited to attend the class.

“Coming in, I didn’t really know what financial literacy was,” Pacheco said. “I realized this could help me.”

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