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UCHS Junior Forms Financial Literacy Nonprofit

Dani wasserman welcomes guest speaker Robin HavlicekYou are 17 and exploring college and career paths. You are thinking about what you might want to do when you get out in the world. And yet, you are entering a society with a rapidly changing economy and workforce. Some people seem to make it big. Others seem to struggle financially no matter what they do. What steps do you take?

For University City High School junior Dani Wasserman, at least part of the answer lies in developing financial literacy well before graduating high school.

Wasserman is the founder of Invest Now Clubs, a registered 501c(3) nonprofit building a network of student financial literacy clubs to help middle and high school students learn the ins and outs of money and how to manage it. Wasserman started her original Invest Now club as a freshman at University City High School during 2020 in the pandemic after pitching the ideas to District administrators through a Zoom meeting that included Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley.

They were wowed, and Wasserman has been working ever since on her quest to rapidly grow financial literacy among her peers. Not only is the Invest Now Club at University City High School thriving, it has also sparked the startup of three other Invest Now clubs – one at a KIPP charter school in St. Louis, another at nearby Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School and the newest at KIPP Schools in Columbus, Ohio.

“Finance has always been something I had been interested in,” Wasserman said. “My dad works in real estate at a bank, which interested me in business.”

Wasserman said she started a small but thriving investment club in seventh grade at her former private school where the middle schoolers learned about the stock market. When she joined the District as a freshman, she saw a need among her peers who didn’t have the connections to banking and entrepreneurship that she had.

“It made me think about a greater impact regarding the knowledge I had acquired,” she said. “Many of our students at University City High School might not come from families who have that knowledge on financial literacy.”

She recalled giving a presentation at Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School, and watching the students’ eyes open wide when they learned about the exponential growth of compound interest and put it in context of sneakers.

“The example I give is the sneaker example, given that many students spend a fair amount on sneakers – because who doesn’t like a good sneaker?” Wasserman said. “I tell them, if you hold off on buying one or two pairs of sneakers and save the money, with a compound interest of 7%, two pairs of $200 sneakers will be $12,608 by the time they turn 65.”

The club meets after school about twice a month. In addition to learning basic financial concepts, the club also brings in guest speakers from banks, investment firms and businesses. Maxine Clark, the former founder and CEO of Build A Bear, is scheduled to visit.

Club members also have some skin in the stock market game. Thanks to support from the District and outside partners, the club is given $300 to invest, so meetings also focus on financial portfolios and making educated investments based on what might be ticking up in the stock market.

“Financial literacy is not just about creating a stable life, but a successful life in various sectors of our society.”

Dani Wasserman

Dani Wasserman
University City High School Junior

The results have been mixed – mostly due to the global pandemic which rocked the markets in the first 18 months of the club. The students’ stock purchase choices are based on current world events, good stewardship, a knowledge of youth culture and, yes, a little bit of gut instinct.

Their first investment was in a solar energy company in Canada in response to the incoming President Joe Biden’s agenda to increase solar energy usage in America, Wasserman said. Stocks that have done well include ULTA Beauty and Costco, which had just completed its plans to build a store in University City. Students have also had some nice returns on stock in The RealReal, an online luxury consignment store. As for the latter pick, Wasserman said club members like “to thrift,” and online recycled clothing is both environmentally sound and a hot trend.

District Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley said Wasserman is a dynamo who plays a powerful leadership role for District administrators and staff to follow.

“Dani is an extraordinary young woman leader,” Hardin-Bartley said. “This is such a fantastic opportunity for our students. So many of our students don’t have access to financial literacy at home. Some of our families are unbanked, meaning they don’t have bank accounts. It is empowering for students to learn both basic skills and understand the high impact of saving and investing wisely.”

When she graduates in 2024, Wasserman plans to major in finance and business and hopes to go into real estate development. She’s already on her way thanks to internships. She’s worked with an affordable housing real estate developer and is doing research on housing in St. Louis for a professor at Washington University. That experience opened her eyes to the history of redlining neighborhoods in St. Louis and its legacy of financial disenfranchisement in many segregated neighborhoods.

Wasserman said financial literacy helps combat that history.

“Financial literacy is not just about creating a stable life, but a successful life in various sectors of our society.”