You might end up surprising yourself with what you are capable of.

 

Image caption: Kat Riggs, 1st Grade Notre Dame de Sion

More than a decade ago, first-grader Kat Riggs struggled with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle: designing a poster about money. She laughed, “I remember being upset on the bathroom floor saying, ‘I don’t want to do this, and I don’t know what to do!’” Her teacher, Susan Robards, had introduced Kat and her Notre Dame de Sion classmates to Junior Achievement programs. After they finished their JA sessions, Robards encouraged them to take what they learned and submit an entry into a financial literacy poster contest put on by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Kat continued, “I was excited for Junior Achievement each week. Ms. Robards made it fun and interesting. But I was so nervous to enter the contest!”

Kat’s poster topic demonstrated what she had learned during her Junior Achievement sessions: the four ways to spend money. “Spend. Save. Donate. Invest” Kat, now a high school senior at Notre Dame de Sion, recited. Her memories of that time in her life are surprisingly clear. Much to Kat’s astonishment, her entry ended up winning first place! “I was surprised I won because I was timid to enter the contest.” Kat’s mother, Annie Riggs, added, “Winning was a BIG deal for little miss Kat. They had a fancy luncheon at the Federal Reserve with cloth napkins and all the bigwigs. For first grade Kat to get to go to that was so much fun.”

Image caption: Susan Robards, 1st Grade Teacher, and Kat Riggs at the Federal Reserve Bank Luncheon

Her mother recalled how one part of the poster contest prize package was particularly impactful. “She got a $100 bill, because she won 1st prize. And she kept those hundred dollars…like KEPT the bill. I asked her if she wanted me to put it into the bank, but no! She wanted to keep it safe in special places. For years she kept it.” Other money passed through Kat’s childhood during birthdays and special events, but her first $100 held a special place of honor to the young girl.

Now a teenager, Kat recently got the chance to practice what she preached all those years ago after earning her first official paycheck. “My first job was working in the extended daycare of my grade school. This summer, I’ve been working at the summer camp with the little kids. I love my school.” Kat reveled in the feeling of empowerment her first independent income as a young adult gave. “It felt exciting and rewarding. I couldn’t wait to go out and buy something with money that I had earned myself. It was MY money.”

Thanks to her first grade Junior Achievement experience, Kat is tempering that excitement, knowing she also needs to save, donate, and invest as well. “The main thing I’m saving up for is college. It’s my senior year and I’m looking at what scholarships I can get. I need to plan for my future in terms of student debt. That type of thing is very much on my mind.” Kat is currently considering studying political science or environmental studies after she graduates high school in May 2022. “I’m interested in working for the government or for a non-profit in a legal way to protect the environment. Caring for the Earth is one of my biggest passions. I want to make a difference.”

Image caption: Kat Riggs, 12th Grade Notre Dame de Sion

Annie chimed in with another thing she’s noticed her daughters doing with the money they earn. “Kat and her sister also donate their money to things. When I was a teenager, I didn’t even think about that. The Junior Achievement message stayed with them.” Annie contrasted how learning about financial decision making was different in her own childhood compared to her daughter’s, “My parents didn’t have those talks about money with us too much. Kat was able to have those conversations, understand money, and know what you can do with it.”

Kat’s mother’s role as Mission Director at Notre Dame de Sion gives her additional perspective on the value of Junior Achievement for young people. She polled some of her students and found a hunger for learning in the financial decision-making space. “They all want to learn about financial literacy. What are income taxes? How and when do you do them? Why do they exist and where does the money go?” She is happy that students can learn that and more through Junior Achievement. “Understanding those systems and how things work in the world is important. It’s not something typically taught at schools and possibly not at home.” Kat learned these things through her Junior Achievement experience. She also picked up an important life lesson that she hopes to share with younger students: the importance of determination. “I learned that when a task feels daunting, just do it and try your best anyways. You might end up surprising yourself with what you are capable of.”  

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