Indiana State University Newsroom

SMART + Money Bus = Teaching students about finances

December 9, 2008

Cory Graham offered advice to each student who bought a ticket from him.

"Spend wisely, spend wisely," he would call as each child headed to put into practice what they studied for the previous six weeks. They each eagerly headed out the door to play various video games that would quiz and teach them about financial literacy as they chose toppings for ice cream, to have their picture taken and to donate to charities.

Graham then turned to the next student in line with the greeting, "Welcome to the Money Bus."

Graham, an Indiana State University senior from Indianapolis, spent the previous weeks teaching fourth and fifth grade students at DeVaney Elementary School about financial literacy before their much anticipated visit aboard the bus, which is sponsored by ISU's Network Financial Institute.

"If you don't know how to balance your money at a young age or an old age, as a young adult or mature adult, then a crisis may occur financially," said the elementary education major. "So being able to save before you buy something that is a want, put away for what you need and purchase that first. It's crucial for young people to learn that so when they get old they remember the good money skills."

Graham, a student in Marylin Leinenbach's classes, decided to join 12 other college students for the Students Mathematical After-school Thinking Program (SMART) to teach elementary students about making wise financial decisions.

"The more experiential learning we can give them with students in actual classrooms, they'll be better teachers for it," said Leinenbach, ISU associate professor of early, elementary and special education. "I knew that part of the Money Bus curriculum would involve my seniors in my math methods classes and give them a chance to get into classrooms to work financial literacy with children. That is one reason I really did champion this program."

ISU student Kyle Lee sat at a table in DeVaney's library working with the students to create budgets in preparation for the visit to the bus.

"You have to be careful now and make the right decisions now," he said.

"That's so hard," a student responded.

"I know," he replied.

For Lee, senior elementary education major from Avon, an opportunity to work with upper elementary students attracted him to the SMART program.

"I wanted to be around them as a good start with a smaller group of them to see if I would like the upper elementary age compared to the younger," he said. "The conversation went really well with them. They would bounce ideas back and forth and it was a lot of fun."

Volunteering with SMART allowed Bonnie Ferree, an elementary and special education major from Sullivan, to work with a new age group and impacted her teaching style.

"It showed me the adjustment of the lessons to each student," she said. "I had a very high achieving student who got it, got it all done and was ready to move on. Then there was my lowest student. Having them work together to help each other out is something I've worked with before but every experience is different and it helps me build."

As much as the college students learned about working with children in preparation for their future teaching careers, elementary students learned about debit, credit and the importance of balancing a checkbook.

"The Money Bus, I think, is a great program that teaches kids my age and in fifth grade about how to spend and handle their money, not to spend too much of it because then it can get you into bad situations," said Olivia Burpo, a fourth grader at DeVaney. "Just today I learned that there's a difference between a debit card and a credit card. I never knew that before."

Paul Utterback, DeVaney principal, thinks those are lessons his students need to learn.

"Parents are eager to sign them up for this," he said. "Most of the time the comments we hear are ?I wish this would have been around when I was a child' and ?I wish we could have signed up for this and taken this' because everyone needs to learn these concepts."

Patty Butwin, advisory board member of ISU's Center for Math Education who worked to bring SMART and the Money Bus together, has championed teaching elementary students financial concepts.

"In terms of financial education for young people, I think that it is probably the key to our economic success long term," she said. "We can't have our young people going out into adulthood and not understand what it takes to budget, what it takes to buy a house. If we don't start at a very young age, we're not going to change the environment."

To bring about that change, Butwin said it is important to train the future teachers in the financial literacy curriculum that they can then teach their students.

"It forms part of their toolbox that they can take into the school next year or the following year when they become a classroom teacher," she said. "Their knowledge of the program can spread to other teachers in the school and that's the way we create and sustain a program."

Jessica Crowley, a senior elementary education major from Elberfeld, plans to use the curriculum when she student teaches during the spring semester.

"I'm thinking I can add that in to my lessons or this would be a great lesson to throw in with this part talking about decimals and percents," she said. "There's just tons of stuff going in my mind with what I can use in my classroom."

Leinenbach sees unlimited potential growth for the financial literacy program through her pre-service teachers and the Networks Financial Institute's Money Bus program.

"There's something in mathematics called a fractal. It's like a tree branch. It branches off, that branches off, that branches off, that branches off. That's what's happening here," she said. "It's really a fractal because just think my students who have now been trained in financial literacy will be student teaching, will still have their own Money Bus curriculums and they'll be able to put it into schools."


Contact: Marylin Leinenbach, Indiana State University, Indiana State University, associate professor of early, elementary and special education and SMART Program director, 812-237-2847 or at

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or at


Cutline: Kyle Lee, senior elementary education major from Avon, responds to a student with a question in his group. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem


Cutline: ISU President Dan Bradley fills out a check for his entry onto the Money Bus while ISU College of Education Dean Brad Balch watches and Cory Graham, ISU senior elementary education from Indianapolis, waits to give him his entry ticket. ISU Photo/ Tony Campbell