“There are a lot of financial literacy programs out there, all doing important work,” Ms. Thorne said. “What we saw was missing is that when you have finance as a core tool in your toolbox, it opens up the world in a different way. You think about decisions differently.”
This intrigued me. After all, getting teenagers interested in finance — and teaching the subject in a way that links it to the moral complexity taught in, say, English class — is certainly a good idea. But why just focus on girls? Are they any more or less adept at understanding finance than boys their age?
To their credit, the organizers did not try to explain this away. The reason, they said, was that their program emphasizes learning techniques that work better with girls.
My other question was why the class should be only for private school students. (One year for a boarding student at Westover tops $47,000 a year.) Do they need this type of education?
“When we say we’re at Milton, Middlesex and Westover, some people say you’re helping rich white girls learn about the financial services industry,” Ms. Thorne said. “This is really about girls who are emerging as leaders and how to help those girls have the finance and investing knowledge they will need.”
The program, she said, will be expanded to other schools if the pilot works.
The class I sat in on was actually had a mix of students, some whose parents paid full tuition, some on financial aid and some from abroad. Here is some of what I learned.
THE APPROACH The curriculum is a mix of classroom learning, field trips and mentoring. Each part is meant to advance a particular goal in making the students better prepared for future careers.
All the classes are taught by a woman who works in finance. The four classes in the first year consist of an overview of the program’s objectives, and discussions of spending, savings and investments.
“All the girls want to talk about is stocks,” Ms. Thorne said. “We can’t talk about investing before we talk about budgeting and saving. We’re about how to build a strong understanding of finance.”
While all three schools are following the same curriculum, they have different businesswomen teaching the classes.
Twice a year, Invest in Girls arranges for field trips to see women at work and also to learn how to network with students from other schools, said Emilie Liebhoff, chief executive of the group. This year, they went to Windhaven Investment Management in Boston and the Hanover Insurance Group in Worcester, Mass.
But the mentoring part is where they get to ask how to apply their learning. Ultimately, students will be taught not just about their own money, but about roles they can play in a business.
THE CLASSROOM What I saw in the classroom was messier and less polished than I had expected.
The night I was there, Connie Everson, a managing director at Capital Markets Outlook Group, a research firm in Boston, was trying to explain how capital markets work. Watching her, I felt sympathy. It is hard for many of us to remember when we did not understand all the financial jargon that is regularly used on television and online. But it was also refreshing to hear a group of 15-year-olds ask why a stock goes up or down.
Toward the end of her talk, we were all asked to look at the bags of Starbust candies Ms. Everson had distributed at the start of the class. Each one had a different combination of red, orange and yellow candies that represented stocks, bonds and cash.