Investing in student success — we can challenge the odds

Robert McCutcheon, (or Mr. Bob, as the scholars were invited to call him) is the Advisory Board Chair of Higher Achievement Pittsburgh and Managing Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC. He posted the following on his Linked In page:

I was honored to be invited as ‘Distinguished Speaker’ for Higher Achievement’s Green Apple Awards ceremony in Pittsburgh this month. But, the truly distinguished participants were the program’s middle school students who have each completed an astronomical 650 hours of afterschool and summer learning over the last four years.

These students are primarily African American youth living in low-income households, in neighborhoods where kids have been shown to drop out of school at higher rates than their peers in more affluent communities. With the support of their Higher Achievement staff and mentors (volunteers from a variety of backgrounds) and their families, these young scholars will turn that statistic around—close to 100 percent are likely to graduate from top academic high schools and more than three quarters will go on to graduate from college.

We have proudly engaged with Higher Achievement, where I have served on their Advisory Board for many years. With the support of a grant from the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc., Higher Achievement enhanced its programs, and was chosen one of four organizations from a field of 400 to receive a Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) validation Grant.

The grant enabled the development of curricula and expansion of the organization, including the launch of a brand new Higher Achievement site in Pittsburgh this coming September. I am looking forward, with great anticipation, to the ribbon cutting ceremony. Thanks to the new site, even more students in our city will have the opportunity to receive the encouragement and personal attention they need, and deserve, to achieve their potential.

There are so many ways we can collaborate to help students in every community have the best chance for success. This month, PwC employees delivered our Earn Your Future (EYF) financial literacy curriculum to students at several schools and achievement centers during the Remake Learning Network’s week-long “Remake Learning Days,” a showcase of innovative teaching and learning programs. We continue our long-time association with The Neighborhood Academy, a private school whose mission is to break the generational cycle of poverty by preparing low-income youth for college and citizenship, where every student receives a full scholarship. And we plan to expand delivery of EYF curriculum to public schools in Pittsburgh through our collaboration with Pittsburgh Promise. Last year, we provided financial literacy education to students in two Pittsburgh public schools and this year, that number grew to nine.

I am not surprised to learn that educators in Pittsburgh are eager for resources and support to provide financial education to their students. They are not alone. As PwC reported last month in our study Bridging the Financial Literacy Gap: Empowering teachers to support the next generation, 67 percent of teachers nationally believe that financial education should start as early as elementary school, yet nearly 70 percent do not feel comfortable teaching financial skills or concepts. Teachers in Pennsylvania say that financial education can help students learn money management skills, understand debt, and support smart decision-making to help them achieve their goals. Yet 64 percent say that financial education isn’t seen as a critical skill for college readiness and a large majority say they lack appropriate curriculum.

Teachers everywhere clearly champion financial education and many, including educators in Pennsylvania, go above and beyond: 76 percent of teachers in our state seek free online resources on their own to help them teach financial lessons. We applaud their commitment to financial literacy and have created a new tool to support them. Last month, PwC launched the EYF Digital Lab, an open access site of videos, animated components, and interactive activities for students and resource guides for teachers. EYF and the new EYF Digital Lab are ideal complements for the projects we’re engaged in with schools from Pittsburgh to Palo Alto—programs to ensure that students in every community learn about earnings and income, spending and saving, borrowing and investing, funding their college educations and planning their careers.

The Higher Achievement scholars have their sights set on the future.

‘I would have had to learn how to make and keep commitments sooner or later. I’m starting early!’ says one young scholar. ‘Now I practice unbreakable focus,’ says another scholar.

We must continue to work together to help make sure that young people can learn to make and keep commitments, embrace and pursue higher education, and face the future with unbreakable focus by providing the schools and educators who teach and nurture our youth with the opportunities, tools, and resources to excel and challenge the odds.

Keep up-to-date with Higher Achievement Pittsburgh by following them on Facebook @HigherAchievementPittsburgh.