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Lending leads to learning

BC-led program connects students from across the globe to fund businesses

Sixth-grade students at Bethlehem Central Middle School have been administering micro-loans in third-world countries as a way to learn about foreign socio-economics. Through a new grant, they’re also partnering with schools in other countries.

Sixth-grade students at Bethlehem Central Middle School have been administering micro-loans in third-world countries as a way to learn about foreign socio-economics. Through a new grant, they’re also partnering with schools in other countries. Photo by Marcy Velte.

— In today’s economy, starting a small business is no small feat. It gets even harder when the entrepreneur lives in a third-world nation.

To learn about the socio-economic differences in other countries, last year Bethlehem Central Middle School teacher Bill Reilly didn’t just rely on a textbook. Instead, he began a global micro-lending bank operated by the school’s sixth-graders through their social studies classes. Now, the project has expanded through the additional help of a grant from a local family’s nonprofit group.

Reilly asked the Casey family of Delmar if their organization World’s Window would be willing to donate an additional $2,500 so schools in three other countries could collaborate with the project to create additional loans.

“We thought it was an important aspect of the project to have the students work together to better learn about different cultures and what is perceived as important within those cultures,” said Reilly.

Now, students from schools in Russia, India and Costa Rica are collaborating with the Bethlehem students in making the lending decisions. The group communicates via webcam and email, and along the way students learn about one another’s family life, holidays and hobbies.

From a practical standpoint, the students are in charge of vetting the applications of those who apply for a $25 loan through the loan organization website Kiva. That donation is oftentimes piled in with other loans for larger purchases. Of the $5,000 grant, half is administered by the Bethlehem Middle School and the rest is dived between the schools overseas. The students pick the businesses they feel will succeed and are in charge of making sure the loan gets repaid.

“This is global banking among kids that really helps impoverished people around the world,” Reilly said.

Each of BC’s six social studies classes are allowed to give out two loans. Groups of students advocate for the businesses they picked to the class and a final vote is taken to decide the winners. Many of the people seeking loans say they need the money to feed and medicate their livestock, purchase products to keep their stores stocked or to fund transportation.

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