Firing a Librarian Caused This School to Backslide on Financial Education

By Susan Beacham

With a tight budget and slack enrollment at A.N. Pritzker elementary school in Chicago, officials sacked the librarian and for a while, anyway, used the facility for dance classes. Sounds crazy, right: School without access to books?

It gets worse. This particular librarian, Marian Ziolkowski, was one of 276 Chicago Public School teacher-librarians that used her time in the library to do something not required of her: teach financial literacy to youngsters. Just like that, Pritzker elementary began backsliding on a critical mission.

Michael Hendershot, parent of a first grader in the school, laments the library closing in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. He notes that the teachers union blocked an effort by parents to volunteer at the library to keep the reading material available. The union was right about one thing: librarians do more than check books in and out, as Ziolkowski and her colleagues in financial education show. But that’s all the more reason to keep them on the job—not sideline them when budgets get tight.

Chicago elementary schools have participated in the Money Savvy program since 2009; Ziolkowski has been at it since 2010, providing financial education to students during library hours. It is a volunteer program, extra work for the teacher-librarians but work that many willingly took on. Over the last nine years 250,000 students have benefited from these financial literacy lessons.

Time in any elementary classroom is at a premium. Teachers are held to high standards; taking on a financial literacy class is difficult. Most classroom teachers were unwilling or unable to add financial literacy lessons to their schedule. Seizing on the “literacy” aspect, librarians believed the program was in their wheelhouse and embraced the curriculum.

It hasn’t been just students who developed financial know-how. Teachers also learned about money, some telling us that the basic course they taught to their students prompted them to clean up their own credit card debt and think about their future. Parents, seeing their children make money choices and set goals, also changed their own money behavior for the better. See for yourself how librarians describe the impact of financial literacy lessons.

Pritzker Elementary had a tough decision. I just hope they understand that the librarian they laid off might have been the reason some of her students later on avoided too much credit card debt or payday loans. She might have been the reason a family touched by her extra effort started saving for retirement.

And in a world where student debt is overwhelming the future of today’s college graduates, I’d say Ziolkowski had been making a huge investment in the future of those children. Such an investment should be noted. Thank you to all the school librarians and classroom teachers that take financial literacy seriously. We are grateful for your service.

Posted in Youth on January, 2017