PHOTO: Maura Cunningham, the founder of Rock the Street, Wall Street, speaks to high school girls at Jackson National Insurance Company // Photo by Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
Female students from Ravenwood and Centennial high schools toured Jackson National Insurance Company in Franklin and heard from finance professionals as part of a financial literacy program on Thursday.
Maura Cunningham had a career in finance for 25 years, including with Merrill Lynch on Wall Street, before creating her own nonprofit, Rock the Street, Wall Street. The organization gives female high school students the chance to enroll in a course that will help them learn how to save and invest money.
Cunningham retired in Nashville in 2009, attending Lipscomb University for a master’s degree in civic leadership. In her thesis, she focused on the United States-specific problem of women lacking financial literacy. She did field research in high schools and found that typical financial literacy programs didn’t prioritize the matter.
“Our program rips from the headlines,” she said.
In Rock the Street’s 5-6 week extracurricular program, students follow several stocks as they cultivate a stock profile for a prototypical client. Ravenwood students have worked on securities analyses, comparing two companies and which stock the client should purchase.
Cunningham said the program, which began first in Ravenwood High School in 2013, has expanded to Centennial High School and to Nashville Metro schools, as well as schools in New York, Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina. Cunningham hopes the program expands even further.
“It’s desperately needed,” she said, pointing out that 80 percent of high school teachers self-report that they are not confident enough to teach personal finance. “My industry has to step up to own this problem and fix it,” she said, “because nobody’s going to fix it otherwise.”
Thursday’s three-hour field trip included a panel in which students heard from financial planners on why they chose their career path, and the necessary steps to success in the business. Girls were also offered mentoring opportunities.
Emily Lovgren, a senior at Centennial High School, said the job the panelists described appealed to her. She is interested in studying entrepreneurship at Belmont University, but also wants to be involved in public relations.
“I thought that would be a really good asset to have going into college,” she said of the program’s focus on finance.
“They answered some questions that I hadn’t known about before about budgeting,” Lovgren continued. “It’s a really good way to get a better look at what you’re going to be doing once you get out of high school and you’re independent.”
Cunningham said feedback from parents, who research shows want to speak with children about finance but often do not, was overwhelmingly positive.
“They reached out to us, totally unsolicited and said, ‘Thank you, thank you,’” Cunningham said. “‘For the first time in 14 years of raising teenagers, we’re speaking about finance at the dinner table.’”