Money Talks: Georgetown MBA Alumnus Empowers Children to Make Better Financial Decisions than Previous Generations

J. Chuchi Arevalo, founder of SPARK Business Academy, in a classroom with children

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There is a hidden crisis in the United States, according to J. Chuchi Arevalo (MBA’99), where many adults lack basic financial literacy skills. College kids quickly get into credit card debt, too many college graduates live paycheck to paycheck, and many baby boomers realize they cannot retire because they did not save enough.

In 2014, Arevalo founded the SPARK Business Academy with the mission to “empower students in grades K-12 with essential financial literacy skills and an entrepreneurial mindset to promote educated financial decisions and future financial independence.”

Arevalo, who spent 16 years working in the financial services group at PwC before the entrepreneurial bug bit, wanted to help cure the financial literacy crisis by working with children.

“Financial literacy is an essential life skill, but it’s not something widely taught in schools, and parents often struggle to talk to their kids about money,” Arevalo says. “It’s not about getting rich; it’s about making responsible financial decisions and promoting greater financial independence.”

SPARK Business Academy is based in the Washington, D.C., area, with a second hub in New York City and rapid expansion to other areas, including Florida and Pennsylvania. The academy partners with nearly 200 schools, both private and public, with students from all income levels. Programs include after-school financial clubs, weekend classes, short-term classroom projects, and summer camps.

“Starting financial education at a young age can help today’s youth avoid the financial mistakes of prior generations,” Arevalo says. “High school is too late. Financial education needs to become second nature.”

How do you teach 6-year-olds financial skills? One project is to create a lemonade stand and teach children basic budgeting and money choices. “We’ve been amazed at how much 6- and 7-year-olds can absorb when we explain these concepts to them in a fun way,” says Arevalo.

The academy has a team of approximately 100. Fifteen are full-time employees while the remainder are part-time staff, including a pool of instructors. Although he keeps busy running the business, Arevalo also likes to teach and be hands-on when possible. He runs some of the one-day programs and often visits the summer camps.

Arevalo hopes to further expand the program, including to the West Coast and internationally. Already, the summer camps have included students from Russia, China, Korea, and Austria.

“What drives me is the feedback we get from parents about the impact we are having on kids,” Arevalo says. Oftentimes, the stories are about how empowered children now feel. One parent told him, “My daughter took your Jr. CEOs class yesterday, and when she woke up this morning, the first thing she said was, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a CEO.’”

— Melanie Padgett Powers

Published in Georgetown Business magazine, Fall 2019