Magnetar Academy Team Challenge: Q&A with Al Raby High School

Al Raby High School, a public school in the Garfield Park neighborhood, is one of the newest high schools in the city of Chicago — its doors first opened in 2004, and its first class of seniors graduated less than a decade ago. Raby was an early participant in the Magnetar Academy, though, and won the second competition in at the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge in 2014, earning a $5,000 grant.

Named after Chicago educator and civil rights leader Albert Raby, the school strives to help students understand the importance of education and active citizenship. The school has an “Al Raby Day of Service” each year, and part of that day is dedicated to teaching basic financial literacy to local elementary and middle school students.

Business and technology teacher John Johnson teaches five classes at Raby, incorporating financial literacy principles into each. He also organizes the after-school Magnetar Academy Financial Literacy Program. We spoke with Mr. Johnson — as well as school principal Dr. Femi Skanes and Keshawn Johnson, a Raby alum and member of the 2014 Magnetar Challenge team — about financial education and their experiences with the Magnetar Academy.

John Johnson, business and technology teacher

Why do you participate in the Magnetar Academy curriculum and the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge?

I can’t say enough about Magnetar and the work they do. What they’re doing for all schools — urban and suburban — is outstanding. They represent what society should be, giving back to the community. I’m a living promotion of Magnetar — I tell all teachers I meet that they should get it into their schools, and they should tell their fellow teachers about it too.

How does your team approach the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge?

They go into it with a mindset that they are buying stock for clients, not for themselves. Like it’s their job. So they make an extra effort to better understand the system and the intricacies of collecting stock, because they’re hoping for a better outcome for their “clients.” It’s not really as much of a competition — they’d love to win, but they’re hoping for a positive outcome of their decisions and to help their hypothetical clients.

How did you use the grant money from the 2014 Magnetar Academy Team Challenge?

We left it up to the students, because they were the ones who earned it. The first thing they decided to do was to hold an end-of-year celebration lunch for their teachers — the teachers had been great, and went above and beyond to take care of the students. So the students wanted to recognize that.

The students also wanted to put up clocks all around the building, to help kids be on time throughout the day. We weren’t able to do this right away, but we just got the electrical upgrades needed to install these digital clocks.

Finally, we decided to put some of that money toward college scholarships for students on the Magnetar Challenge team. Even the following year, the school was able to use the money to help students visit colleges or make book purchases at the colleges they are now attending. We’ve gotten a lot of use out of the grant money.

Dr. Femi Skanes, principal

What lessons does the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge teach to students?

There are a few key lessons that the students learn. The Challenge taught diligence and perseverance — it took a lot of work to prepare. I see the students work hard and put in effort because they want to do well. They stay at school late, they wake up early, working to hone the concepts that they need. These are the skills that students do not always master in the classroom.

Confidence is another one. Students often lack confidence to compete in things like this, against other schools and students they don’t know. Competitions like the Team Challenge show them that they can do it.

Why is it important for your students to learn about finance?

Personal finance, beyond anything else you learn in school, is one of the top three skills that consume an adult’s life. And you can’t learn about finance once you have financial problems — you have to learn earlier.

When you come to Raby your freshman year, we’re setting you up not only to graduate from high school, but setting you up for success in college and life in general. We want to instill good habits in our students before they possibly damage their credit scores, for example. That’s one reason financial literacy is important.

Al Raby High School won the second annual Magnetar Academy Team Challenge in 2014

Keshawn Johnson, Al Raby alumnus and member of the 2014 team

What is most memorable to you about your experience at the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge?

The most memorable moment was when Mr. Johnson yelled as loud as he could when we found out that we won and received the first place award. Seeing how much fun my peers were having as we all attempted to be successful was a great experience.

What was the key to your team winning the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge in 2014?

We committed to listening to each other, kept a successful group of stocks and just added or subtracted from there based on trends.

In general, why is financial literacy important?

Financial literacy is important because finance is in our everyday life, from spending to receiving a paycheck, we have to know when and the best ways to spend the money we earn. There are many different reasons why financial literacy is important but knowing when to spend and why is probably the most.

What advice would you give to current high school students, either about the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge or about financial education in general?

I would put emphasis on learning about credit cards and interest rates. Budgeting your money, and investing it for future personal value is also important. Financial literacy is as important as getting a job and earning money. What good is having money if you can lose it by making one mistake that could have been avoided?