You wouldn’t think that global real estate funding and ways to assess and reduce financial risk would be taught in an elementary school cafeteria.
However, every Thursday night at the Lea School at 47th and Locust streets, a Wharton professor teaches these very tools and more to West Philadelphia adults.
The course on adult financial literacy taught by Professor of Strategic Management Keith Weigelt is a partnership between Weigelt, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and Lea. It focuses on teaching adults the best ways to invest and manage their money.
The weekly lessons include: how to make better use of your money, how to save money more wisely, how to accumulate more wealth, how to better protect your wealth and how to reduce your debt.
Each week, participants receive colorful packets filled with pertinent information and graphs. If they finish the six-week course, they are automatically enrolled in Weigelt’s Investment Club, which helps participants act on what they have learned.
Two Thursdays ago, nine women were there, some with their children. Last Thursday, at the most recent class, 16 people showed up.
“I’ve already done investments, but the options he’s talking about I’ve never heard of,” course participant Dorothy Long said.
The idea follows the work of Engineering junior Mark Harding and College sophomore Gina Dukes. Last summer, the pair proposed that more adult education courses should offered through the Netter Center. Throughout the fall, Harding and Dukes worked on implementing such courses in local schools.
Dukes described some difficulties of working with the Lea School, saying that in the beginning of the year the prin cipal was not willing to bring new classes to the school.
“She wasn’t open to having the school open later hours so [we] were at a loss,” Dukes said.
Director of the Lea School University Partnership Caroline Watts said in an email that “with a new leader, new students, new staff, we needed to know our community better in order to plan programs that would meet their needs and interests.”
Finally, in the spring, the class was able to begin after Weigelt approached Watts and the Netter Center, expressing an interest in teaching this course.
Weigelt — who founded “Building Bridges to Wealth,” a program that teaches youth and adult entrepreneurial and life skills — was inspired to suggest this class to Watts because he “looked at the school, went to some parents’ meetings and thought there were other issues [including a] lack of parental engagement” that he wanted to address.
Dukes and Harding then began getting the word out about the course, by handing out flyers to parents at the Lea School and to local businesses. However, only about five people showed up to the first class.
“[Mark and I are] looking for ways to get parents more engaged and for us to show them how important of a resource this is,” Dukes said.
However, Weigelt was disappointed with the lack of attendance at the course.
“The Netter Center did a bad job with outreach,” Weigelt said.
One of the things Weigelt cited in his disappointment in the Center’s outreach is that the financial literacy course is not listed on the Netter Center website.
“This was the first program of its type so we weren’t sure the best ways to go about [advertising for] it — not only the Netter Center, but both Gina and I as well,” Harding said.
The Netter Center could not be reached for comment.
Although Weigelt was upset about the class turnout, Watts feels that although the class has started out small, it will grow through word of mouth among community members and class participants.
“We have been working to bring in parents in different ways,” Watts said. “It is always a slow process as you come to read the community and the best ways to communicate. We are starting smaller than hoped but word is spreading and we get more parents every week.”
Meanwhile, Harding and Dukes hope that if this course is successful, Lea will continue to offer adult education courses. They are looking to use Penn resources to bring classes in history, art and culture to the Lea School. A course based on “12 Years a Slave” will begin at the Lea School in late April.
“Our overall goal is to create the school as a social center of the community,” Harding said.