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Education / Nonprofits / Partnerships

This Baltimore nonprofit makes a game out of financial literacy education

Ortus Academy looks to take a new approach to teach students math. It's looking to grow through partnerships with Baltimore businesses.

Aaron Velky of Ortus Academy (left). (Courtesy photo)
Aaron Velky spearheaded a program to teach students math, but it involves dollars rather than division.
When seeking to assist students with math at a school in East Baltimore, Velky, who is cofounder of the nonprofit Ortus Academy, saw that lessons involving lectures and arithmetic weren’t getting through.
By switching the subject from math to money, however, he found that the message could resonate. Plus, it presented an opportunity teach financial literacy that could help kids prepare for their future and learn about money matters early on in life, whether or not they get a job requiring math skills.
Velky and collaborators also sought to approach the lessons like a game. Whether it’s going through a series of life decisions or making transactions at different stations, the idea is to allow for a chance to think about a spending decision and talk about it with someone (in this case, a coach).
“Those stations help us connect to ideas about money and to experiences [involving] money without too much information,” Velky said.
The game, called NumisMatters, developed into programs with multiple lessons and games, Velky said. Initially launching as a pilot in April 2016, Ortus Academy is now a nonprofit that’s working with 5th-12th graders. The subject matter of the lessons are changed up to cater to different age groups, but Velky said the numbers remain the same.
It’s designed to be the “first and most robust entry point into what the world of money looks like from a personal finance basis,” he said.
Velky and the team have run about 10 programs in schools, reaching more than 300 students. Velky said Loyola University Maryland has been a supporter, hosting programs onsite and creating connections with volunteers. In 2018, it’s getting set for pilots outside of Baltimore in Reading, Pa., and Seattle, Velky said.

Given that it’s taking a new approach to solving a couple of big issues at once, Ortus Academy has also found connections with the innovation community. The nonprofit recently became a member of the Towson University incubator, where a community has grown around education-focused startups.
A pair of recent partnerships are deepening ties to other Baltimore businesses. Ortus Academy recently announced a partnership with T. Rowe Price, which will provide funding as well as connections to resources at the Baltimore-based financial giant, Velky said.
The nonprofit is also looking to bring tech to its programming. Ortus Academy is partnering with OnTrajectory, a Baltimore startup that built a platform to make financial planning easier to understand. The two young ventures are working on tech that will allow elements of NumisMatters to be visually represented.
With OnTrajectory founder Tyson Koska having acknowledged the platform’s potential to help educate, he and Velky found they were aligned.
“We found common ground quickly and easily,” Koska said. “It made a lot of sense to get Ortus’ financial life lessons onto a technology platform to show instantly how small changes today can have huge impacts to kids’ lives – like million-dollar impacts.”
Adding tech can also help Ortus Academy scale, though Velky said they are taking care to keep the behavioral and emotional learning that are important in learning about money.
“What we want to create is a virtual game that’s really unlike what I’ve seen in this space,” he said.

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