Personal Finance

How These Entrepreneurs Found a Catchy Way to Teach Students Financial Literacy

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A catchy beat raps out the tragic tale of Melvin, a young man who decides to finance a pricy pair of Super Bowl seats for himself and his girlfriend, Vanessa, with a credit card. Because he only pays the minimum on his balance each month, the amount he owes the bank quickly skyrockets. In frustration, he stops making payments.

That's when the walls start closing in around him.

His fate is spelled out, lyric by lyric -- But now he's got bad credit, can't buy a car/ Can't rent an apartment, times is hard/And when the phone rings, do you think it's Vanessa?/Nah, it's just a bunch of debt collectors – before the verses shift to outlining more responsible ways to use a credit card and explaining why it's important to build a good credit score.

The song -- direct, clear and insanely catchy -- is part of publishing company Flocabulary's new 12-unit course aimed at teaching students grades sixth through 12 financial literacy.

Related: Ed-Tech Startups Aim to Reinvent Classroom

Founded by then-recent college graduates Alex Rappaport and Blake Harrison, Flocabulary launched in 2004. At the time, the pair was just making hip-hop videos to help high school students memorize SAT vocabulary words. "We released maybe the first ever SAT rap album and toured the country performing at schools at 8 a.m. in the assembly hall," says Rappaport, who serves as the company's CEO. "Kids thought we were crazy, but at the same time they loved it." The business grew out of their realization that hip-hop songs and videos were the perfect medium to present educational subjects in a way "kids could connect with."

Today, Flocabulary has a library of more than 550 educational hip-hop videos that explore a wide range of subjects, including math, science, social studies, language arts, and current events, which are used by teachers in 20,000 schools across the country. Schools pay an annual flat rate of $1,200 for blanket access, while individual teachers can purchase a $96 annual subscription.

With the release of its new personal finance series, which was made in partnership with the City University of New York, the company's educational reach now expands beyond traditional academic subjects. "A lot of kids have their eyes glazed over as they hear about mortgage rates and APRs and all that stuff," Rappaport says. "So we applied the same techniques we apply to just about everything -- let's try and be creative and bring the curriculum to life."

Related: Manage Your Home Economics as If You Are Running a Business, and Watch Your Savings Grow

Increasingly, educators are realizing that financial literacy is important. This year 17 states require students to take a personal finance course, nearly three times the number of states that did so 10 years ago. Culturally, Rappaport also notices an increased emphasis on the importance of personal finance education. "College is getting exorbitant, so families and their kids have to start making a plan when they are young," he says. "If we can be exposing a sixth grader to the idea of FAFSA and student loans and credit history and credit reports, that student will be in a much better position in high school and beyond."

While the courses are intended for middle-school and high-school students, they can also be a good starting point for adults . As the video series was being produced in Flocabulary's office in Brooklyn, N.Y., a large percentage of the staff was forced to come to terms with their own limited financial literacy. Judging from his employees' reactions, "it's very clear that adults can use a refresher on this; for many of them, it may be the first time they've gotten a good understanding of how a 401K works, or the difference between buying and renting…all this stuff is just so relevant to all age groups."

Related: Most Students Now Pay for College Themselves

Flocabulary's 12 hip-hop videos -- topics include goal-setting, budgeting, managing college loans and making investments -- aren't "meant to be the end all be all of personal finance education," Rappaport emphasizes, but instead transform the subject of personal finance, with all its thorny principles and shrouded terminology, from something that's scary and foreign to something that's approachable and engaging. "At the core, kids love music and music is a great way to learn. We're going to take that as far as we can."

Check out Flocabulary's video on banking below: