"Becoming financially literate is not just beneficial for an individual, it's also beneficial for the community in which they live, and for our nation as a whole." - Lisa Bender
They say “all politics is local”, and there’s some truth to that phrase. Sometimes when you seek a policy change, the best place to start is the community in which you live. Your teacher voice can be amplified beyond the walls of your classroom and flow into the halls of your school building, your town or city, and even into the decision-making conference room of a local school board. Here’s my roadmap that I used to help make a full course in financial literacy a graduation requirement in my district. Perhaps it can help you chart your path to realize this goal too!
Find Ways to Challenge Your “FinLit” Students
Are you teaching budgeting? Of course you are, so why not sign your class up for HR Block’s Budget Challenge? This is a free 10 week academic competition where your students are challenged to manage a budget - keeping up with monthly payments, learning to pay bills online, and creating a cash flow spreadsheet. This tool provides daily updates of student rankings among their peers in your class but also against peers from all across the nation competing in the same 10 week game.
Find essay contests tied to “FinLit” topics. It’s amazing how many of them are out there! Are you a member of a statewide or local credit union? They often sponsor scholarship contests tied to a question about personal finance. I am fortunate to teach a full personal finance course and I use the Take Charge Today curriculum because it is comprehensive and turnkey and helps students understand all phases of personal finance topics and they would be prepared to talk about almost any consumer finance topic in a contest. In addition to their curriculum, I use Take Charge America Institute's fun website “Consumer Jungle”. It is chock full of articles for teens and college students about real-life examples of fraud, videos of student contests about credit, and links to financial literacy games. But Consumer Jungle also sponsors writing contests and poster contests and other competitions throughout the school year where your students can be challenged to tell a story about a personal finance topic. Keep your eye on www.consumerjungle.org to find their next student contest. Prizes offered for these contests, like Amazon Gift Cards, are a great incentive for the teens in your class!
Seek the partnership of local business people
Have you ever thought about using the Council on Econ Ed’s Stock Market Game in class? This is a great hands-on experience that fits well with a unit of study on investing. Don’t worry, I wasn’t an investment guru when I started using this game, but I sought the help of a local stock broker to visit my class and help all of us understand the markets. That relationship I sought out in my early years of teaching lasted 23 years! It was a partnership that would become crucial to promoting the value of personal finance lessons for students in my district.
Tell Your Students’ Stories
Feeding the local news with pictures of students and local business people who spend time in your classroom is always a “win-win” scenario. Write stories for your local paper that reveal successs stories of students engaged in the learning process. Reach out to your local TV and radio stations with news of winners of contests, field trips, and explain the real world teaching and authentic learning that is occurring in your classroom. Parents who hear and read stories of your students will become fans of your program and advocates for a graduation requirement when you reach out to them for support. Don’t forget to spotlight student achievements within your own campus too to get buy in to your idea of a financial literacy graduation requirement from your own administration. Feed information to the Web Design Teacher or Media Specialist if he/she manages the school’s social media efforts and school website. And don’t forget to share winning essays to your school newspaper and school-based TV news show.
Leverage Your Teacher Voice
Your teacher voice can be powerful in your local community and if you leverage it properly, you can affect change for the greater good. If you have followed the road map so far, you have challenged your students to take risks in competitions, writing contests, and you have made efforts to showcase their achievements. Now you’re ready to make a push for change.
In my case, the business classes where I was teaching personal finance topics was an elective and I maybe reached 20 students per year. I knew the students who were enrolled in these classes were fully engaged and making important connections to the real world that would last a lifetime. So did the business partner I worked with who sponsored the Stock Market Game each year. He and I would often sit and chat after class that he had just worked with and lamented about how we both wished we could reach more students. Out of those conversations came the idea for him and me to make a public push to make financial literacy a required course to graduate. We knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but we were both committed to giving it our best shot. We made appearances at parent community meetings, we wrote letters and emails to our elected board of education members. We searched for public events that we could visit to leverage our voices. It took approximately two years of promoting the success that we were witnessing taking place in the business ed classroom and finally, a vote of the local board had a unanimous “yes” to making all the high school students in our county be required to take a full financial literacy course in order to graduate. This local decision went a step further than what was required by the Maryland State Department of Education, which had mandated that financial literacy concepts be embedded into each school district’s curriculum for grades 3-12. If a district wanted to go above those standards and require financial literacy to graduate, they could do so through local control. To this date, 7 of Maryland’s 24 districts have voted to require “FinLit” as a graduation requirement. I hope that eventually all come on board and adopt that requirement.
Financial Literacy for the Greater Good
I am an optimist when it comes to pushing for positive change in the area of financial literacy. It is such an important topic for young people to be exposed to, and then be given booster shots of “FinLit” throughout their life. As teachers, we can develop a road map to enacting change; we can use our voices to partner with others and act as change agents for the greater good. Before my district voted yes to making a full financial literacy course a requirement to graduate, I would reach about 20 students a year. After our efforts worked to bring about the policy change, I would reach 200 students a year. That’s real change that made a difference for the greater good for our local community. See, all politics is local. Now you have a road map to enact change too!