Recently I had the privilege to speak to Aaron Velky—the owner, Co-Founder, and operator of Ortus Academy—about what he does through his nonprofit.
Ortus Academy specializes in financial education for kids in the public, private, and special needs sector. Financial education is an often overlooked area in our community which is essential for our youth, which then leads to students coming out of high school or college feeling unprepared to handle certain financial aspects of daily life.
Originally, Aaron told me, Ortus started as a math program. But over time, he and his team worked with began to realize the program wasn’t achieving what they wanted. After developing another program, which was then also scrapped, he and his team began to shift their focus onto money—realizing that finances are a real-world application of math skills.
It was then that Aaron realized he had the opportunity to help kids use the principles of math in their daily lives. Even kids who really struggled with math in the past would have the opportunity to learn in a way that was practical and engaging.
Ortus has actually developed a game to help teach kids skills in math. Aaron likes to say that they are more of an “edu-gaming” company than an education company. Implementing fun makes learning more interesting, which is why Ortus uses their game, which is designed for kids from fifth to 12th grade, walks students through about 5 years worth of life decisions—letting them interact with money in a way that allows for mistakes as learning opportunities.
In real life, even one year is a long period with a lot of time for mistakes. But Ortus’ game is played in just about an hour and fifteen minutes after school. In that short time, they try to give kids as much as an overview of what financial planning and responsibility looks like as possible.
Ortus works with kids from all walks of life—including public, private, and special needs students. Despite the differences these kids may find elsewhere in life, Aaron says that one thing which has surprised him is the fact that all of these students have the same level of need for this kind of program.
So, why aren’t schools adopting similar programs within their own curriculum? Well, Aaron thinks that that sort of thing could be easier said than done. Not only is Ortus different from something typically found on a common core curriculum, it also challenges the ideas surrounding why we learn math in the first place. Ortus caters to students who may not understand the “why” of learning, otherwise.
Ortus teachers kids the importance of learning as much as it teaches them about math. A student who struggled previously, having now learned the value of money, might then apply a new level of enthusiasm to his other studies since realizing that they can be beneficial in real life.
After our talk, Aaron decided to walk me through the game so I could see exactly what it was about.
The first station he had me start was one that represents working for a salary. He also informed me of the game’s three rules: you can’t go backwards, you have to figure things out alone, and you’ve got to write your story down.
“The game is just a catalyst—it’s not the whole lesson.”
In the game, Aaron represented my employer at the first station—where I earned a salary of $40,000. To “earn” my salary, I completed 10 pushups. Next, Aaron acted as a banker at the second station, where he explained the concept of deposits and withdrawals, as well as the importance of knowing where your money is at all times. After that, I moved to the third station, which he called “Mr. and Mrs. Fun.” There, a colored wheel was spun.
Each color represented a different deck of cards to be drawn from, with each card representing an unexpected life event. This stage in the game is designed to show how important it is to prepare for the unexpected. Here, the player will either be prepared to pay or forced to go into debt.
Next, the game took me to a station where Aaron acted as a bill collector. There, the player must pay money for things like food, gas, phone bills, cable bills, internet bills, and other expenses. For the sake of the game, the total cost of all of these items amounts to $10,000. The bill collector must be paid immediately. Next was the landlord, where another fixed amount was paid (not shown in video) for the rental of my living space.
After this step, Aaron takes on the role of the player’s investment manager. At this station the player can choose between different options in terms of education and housing. But the next station, however, involves a lot more risk. While at the lottery ticket station, players can choose to “invest” $1,000 for the chance of winning $1 million. The odds are, as is the case in life, against you here.
Finally, the last stage of the game involves looking at a tracking sheet. On this sheet, the player’s moves are recorded and calculated; players with the most assets are the winners. Ultimately, the game allows kids to work through decisions in order to see how money works in real, everyday situations, without the real-life risks.
But the game is just a catalyst—it’s not the whole lesson. Ortus program “Money Club” offers 10 total sessions, over the course of which the game is played twice and is interspersed with different lessons. All of this is designed to help kids learn, and to see the big picture. Ortus Academy plays games, asks questions and tells stories to help hit home on the subject of money habits and a healthy money relationship.
Ortus Academy hosts the game and program, held after school for an hour and fifteen minutes per session, at schools throughout Baltimore and beyond. When playing the game, up to 25 students participate, playing through each station in their school’s multipurpose room. Each table, represented in video by only Aaron, is home to a local college undergrad or business volunteer. Lessons are led in classroom by Ortus Academy staff. If you’d like to host a program, their website outlines the process.
To find Ortus on the web, visit www.ortusacademy.com.
If you have any other questions or want more information feel free to give me a call, text, or send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you soon.