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Thursday, June 13, 2024


Oct. 3, 2001 – What is a commodity? Well, coconuts, mangoes, sugar and tea are commodities, and, at one time, they were used to barter for other goods or services.
But that was before we started using money. How we use money today and how it affects us, even as fifth and sixth graders, is the subject of "Growing up Financially," a 65-page teaching guide developed by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and his staff as part of an "economic literacy" program being implemented in the schools this academic year.
At a press briefing in the Education Department's teleconference center on St. Thomas Wednesday, Donastorg was joined by Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds and Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. Noreen Michael, assistant Education commissioner, and her colleagues watched the program from St. Croix.
Simmonds expressed enthusiasm about the project. "It will affect the students' entire lives," she said, noting that the material will be presented to 61 fifth- and sixth-grade classes on St. Thomas and St. John and 72 such classes on St. Croix. "We're going to monitor the success of this program this year carefully," she said, adding, "Too often we don't follow through."
The curriculum addition was mandated by the 23rd Legislature, Donastorg said, in order to teach children basic concepts of money management and economics. He said he and his staff have been working on the project for two years.
The senator said he hopes to see the basics of money management taught to the students in such a way that they can relate what they learn to daily life. "These are the tools desperately needed for our kids to learn," he said. The lessons allow for flexibility, he noted, and teachers can integrate them into their classes as they see fit, not just in the teaching of mathematics.
Leroy Trotman, Education Department head of curriculum and instruction, said the lessons actually are intended to be integrated into the curriculum across many disciplines — the creative and performing arts, language arts, reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, history, the sciences and computer science.
For instance, he said, in a visual arts class, students could design their own checks; in a drama class, they could act out a skit of Taino and Carib amerindians using the barter system; in language arts they could write a report tracing the evolution of bartering to paper money; in math they could figure out how many pennies are in a million dollars.
Trotman said he will work with department coordinators in each subject area to get the program implemented.
Donastorg noted with some satisfaction that the executive and legislative branches of government and the private sector worked together in the endeavor. "We have contacted the chambers of commerce to enlist the expertise of the private sector in hands-on experience for the kids," Nicole Bollentini, Donastorg's public information aide, said. She said she hopes to have representatives of different finance-related fields speak to classes and to have teachers take their students on field trips to businesses.
The manual itself was published locally by InterVoyager Media, which subsidized a part of the printing costs.
Tynnetta McIntosh, a Chase Manhattan Bank officer and the V.I. Bankers Association community relations director, warmly endorsed the program. "We are getting a speakers bureau together to come to the schools," she said. "It will be a very good program."
Donastorg said the teaching manual shows the relationship between education levels and income levels. Such teaching points "are important realities that the children haven't been adequately taught" up to now, he said.
Julio Daniels, federal grant overseer for the Office of Management and Budget, and graphic artist Louis Ible Jr. created the artwork for the manual. Daniels, Donastorg's former chief of staff, proudly showed off his handiwork on the cover — an illustration of children hauling money in a wheelbarrow to the "Students' Savings Bank of the V.I."
Manuals have been distributed to all public and private schools in the territory, Donastorg said, and he is at work on a second manual, this one geared toward high school students. It will deal with the stock market, foreign currency and more sophisticated economics, he said.

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