Helping kids learn to make sense out of saving dollars

Finances: A local credit union's Moola Moola and the Money Minders program teaches youths about money management.

October 05, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

A tuft of purple synthetic fur peeks over the divider between the hallway and the pre-K story time room at Kiddie Academy in Elkton.

Instantly, the attention of Linda Minter's and Rose Whiteman's classes shifts to the large purple-and-green guest. No, it isn't Barney - the large purple dinosaur on PBS - but the visitor, Moola Moola, might as well be his capitalist cousin.

Moola Moola, a circular, coin-like figure with green hands, feet, nose and antenna, and a toothy grin, is the mascot of Aberdeen Proving Ground Federal Credit Union's Moola Moola and the Money Minders program to teach children younger than 14 about money management.

Moola Moola's appearance marks the finale of the hourlong class, which includes songs, games, a story and a puppet show, and it seems to be the most popular part among the 4-year-olds. The class joins Moola Moola in his self-titled song, sung to the melody of "YMCA" before he leaves.

Financial literacy

The Moola Moola and the Money Minders program has been traveling to classrooms all over northeastern Maryland for the past eight years, teaching financial literacy. In 1995 Tina Ripken, a member of the credit union's marketing division, recommended that the credit union buy the rights to the program's concept from Bankers Systems Inc. of St. Cloud, Minn.

Under Ripken's supervision the credit union's educational services have grown from the Moola Moola concept to the Youth Education Services (YES) Team, which she started running full-time last month.

As the head of the Y.E.S. Team, Ripken coordinates Moola Moola and the Money Minders and STARSS (Students, Teens, and Young Adults Reaching Success through Savings) programs. She also has taught in day cares and colleges on subjects ranging from coin identification to job placement. At Kiddie Academy, she's wearing the furry suit, doing her best to spell M-O-O-L-A with her arms.

Ripken said the credit union was looking for educational programs to promote responsible money management - a skill that she found lacking in several of her clients.

"I had very well-educated adults sit across the desks on more than one occasion and ask me for loans of $1,000 because their checkbook was overdrawn. And I would ask the question, `How did you get in that situation?' They'd say, `I don't know, Mrs. Ripken, because I still have checks in my checkbook.'

"Whoa, this is not a good thing. We had to do something here to fix the problem," Ripken said.

The Moola Moola program had a serendipitous start when a teacher at the Aberdeen Unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Harford County approached Ripken during the summer of 1995 inquiring about financial programs to bring into their summer camps.

It was only a few weeks after the credit union had adopted Moola Moola, but Ripken traveled to the facility with a lesson plan and a puppet theater made out of a refrigerator box. That fall, she took Moola Moola to Bakerfield Elementary School in Aberdeen, and the program has been growing ever since.

Last year, Moola Moola visited more than 170 classrooms and more than 5,000 pupils.

"We are booked so far in advance. Schools just got into session, and they are scheduling sessions in March, April and May of next year because the teachers now know if we don't catch you early, we may not catch you," Ripken said.

Ripken has an archive of lesson plans that range from the playful Moola Moola performance for pre-K through fourth grade to a more serious lecture on money management for middle and high school students. Ripken and her two assistants, Jeniffer Kaiser, 24, and Tina Polanowski, 32, offer the lessons as a free service.

At the program's inception, Aberdeen Proving Ground Federal Credit Union was a Department of Defense and Bond Credit Union, which limited Ripken's ability to market educational services to schools. She was able to visit classrooms only with an invitation from the school or organization. However, under the organization's new designation as a civilian credit union in April, Ripken can pursue partnerships with schools and customers among the students.

Forging partnerships

Along with posters and games, Ripken brings cardboard boxes full of credit union folders with pencils, rulers and brochures about opening a Moola Moola savings account. She leaves literature about the STARSS programs when visiting high schools. Also, the programs have helped forged partnerships between the credit union and area schools according to Ripken and Amy Sweet, a marketing and communications specialist at the credit union.

Ripken believes she gives local students a basic understanding and rudimentary guide to money management.

She has noticed that, since she began working with the Moola Moola program, "People are getting a lot more savvy and are turning to education institutions" for their financial questions.

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