Bringing Banking to Algebra Class

The students in Joe Christy’s 10th grade algebra II class have been applying what they are learning about functions through an ongoing bank activity. Working in groups, they are operating four virtual “banks” through the class’s Google site. Each bank sets its own interest rates and fees, and they compete for “customers” and profits. Banks have to maintain cash reserves of at least 10% of their total Certificate of Deposits, and the student “loan officers” must report weekly on the status of their bank’s portfolio.

On October 26 the class got some real-world advice from mortgage broker Paul Gershkowitz, president and co-owner of Greenpark Mortgage and a class parent, who also has friends at and blogs for After hearing Mr. Christy’s presentation on the banking activity at this year’s Back-to-School Night, Mr. Gershkowitz offered to come share his perspective and expertise, as someone who has been in the mortgage business for almost three decades. He explained the basic criteria that lenders use for evaluating loan applicants’ credit-worthiness, and talked about the perfect storm of easy credit, falling rates and rising home prices that triggered the current housing crisis. A key tenet of Greenpark’s business model has been to make loans based on traditional, time-tested measures of credit-worthiness, a strategy which, he said, many in the mortgage industry ignored in the early 2000s. As one example of Greenpark’s social values, Mr. Gershkowitz noted that his firm offers discounted loans to members of the Mass. Teachers Association. Speaking both as a father and a loan professional, Mr. Gershkowitz strongly cautioned students against using credit cards to finance a lifestyle they cannot afford and urged them to establish sound spending and credit habits early on.

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