Students Engaged in Connecting Personal Financial Habits with Growing Wealth

We all remember Career Day in school. Dress professionally. Fix your hair. Firm handshake. Maintain eye contact. Speak in complete sentences. Don’t let them see you sweat!

Southwest DeKalb High School took these tried-and-true fundamentals this year and added an exciting twist. The staff expanded the experience to include a week-long workshop focused squarely on financial literacy.

Bankers, accountants, stockbrokers, and other money professionals from the financial field joined other career professionals on January 23-26 at the school to discuss their career journeys and provide invaluable tips to students on managing their money better. The idea of a week-long workshop on financial literacy was developed by the school’s Principal Advisory Council (PAC). Linda Bell, the chairperson of the PAC, said the workshop’s purpose is to help better prepare students for life after high school.

“Our children, and some of their parents, may not know what they’re doing when it comes to financial literacy,” said Bell. “We want to show them how to open a bank account. We want to teach them how to have a great credit score because they don’t know what a credit score is, and they’re getting ready for college. So, we want them to learn early so they won’t go out in the world and say they don’t know how to balance a checkbook.”

Amazingly, about 80 career and financial professionals volunteered their time and talents to speak with students. One of them was Derrick Wills, a 2002 graduate of Southwest DeKalb High. He is the Founder and CEO of iDentity Corporation, a marketing agency. Wills said he wanted to give back to the school that helped him become the successful entrepreneur he is today.

“It’s been really inspiring to speak with the kids,” Wills said. “I like encouraging the students to realize that the stuff they’re bothered about now will probably be their strength later.”

Some students also heard from Atlanta rapper Young Dro, whose road manager went to Southwest DeKalb. He heard great things about the school and students and wanted to share what he’s learned about spending and investing.

“I want [the students] to surround themselves with people that understand what it means to be financially stable. Most kids at this age are into buying jewelry, shoes, and clothes, and that’s not the way to go,” said Young Dro. “I’ve experienced the same thing. So, I’m big on investing, and if it doesn’t have a return, then don’t invest in it.

“People look up to rappers like us, but I want them to be able to look at themselves as bigger and better than us,” Young Dro added.

Outside of financial literacy, the school PAC encouraged speakers to discuss mental health awareness, preparing for interviews, how to dress for success, and other essential career topics. Southwest DeKalb High School Sophomore Janay Brown said she learned a lot about managing in one of the sessions and looked forward to the financial literacy session.

“I want to know about budgeting because I know that’s something that many students have struggled with, it’s something that I have struggled with, and it’s something that I want to know how to handle,” Brown said.

Southwest DeKalb Principal Dr. Thomas Glanton said connecting the students to various professionals highlights what the school is about—making valuable connections.

“Once we put the word out, they beat down the door to come and talk to our students! Our focus as a school is to continue partnering with the community,” said Dr. Glanton.

Bell said she hopes the workshop also shows students that countless people are eager to support them.

“We want them to understand that they’re not alone, that the community cares for them, and that people will pour into them. They don’t have to go into crime,” Bell said.

“Do what needs to be done—do your work, go to school. Even if you don’t want to attend a four-year college, you can go to a technical school or become an entrepreneur. We want them to be happy, successful, and financially responsible regardless of where their careers take them.”