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Helping Students See a World Beyond High School

Teacher: Laurie Gardner

School: Marine City High School (Marine City, Mich.)

Subjects: Financial Management, Business Essentials I & II, and Health

Grade Levels: 9-12th

Years Teaching: 11

Why Teaching: “Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher,” Laurie said. While teaching was initially about the planning and leadership aspect of it, she said: “today it is about making a difference and helping students reach their full potential.” She particularly wants to instill real-world business and financial management skills while developing relationships that last through the years.

Why Personal Finance: Although Laurie said she was assigned the personal finance class after a teacher retired, she’s become extremely passionate about it, and understands how important it is for her students to master. She never had a personal finance class in high school and feels every student should be required to take a comprehensive class to learn crucial money management skills.

State Financial Education Requirement: Personal finance is not a required course in Michigan, but economics is and contains a small personal finance component. However, Laurie added that she takes a more in-depth approach to teaching personal finance – she wants to ensure her students are prepared for the world after high school.

Resources: Laurie is a fan of Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), and speaks highly of the Jump$tart National Educator Conference. She particularly likes the ability to network and collaborate with other teachers at the conference. Laurie said, the colleagues she has met through NGPF and the Jump$tart Coalition have turned into friends who keep in touch and share ideas on a regular basis. She also said she is very thankful to be connected with wonderful personal finance teachers from across the country.

This year, her work with NGPF opened an opportunity not just for her class but more than 600 students – including those from Amanda Volz’s students from St. Clair, Mich. They will have the opportunity to hear from Adam Carroll, author of The Money Savvy Student and creator of the documentary “Broke, Busted, and Disgusted,” which showcases the student debt crisis in America.

Her Story

When students walk into Laurie’s class, they are greeted not with rows of desks, but a couch, beanbags, high-top tables, tables on wheels, and other areas that foster a 21st-century educational environment. She feels collaboration, ownership of learning, and communication skills are essential in today’s learning environment. (See more on her classroom.)

“Students can sit where they are most comfortable, which has been great for creativity and critical thinking,” Laurie says. At times her students are also put into groups of students they may not usually work with. This is valuable because they can learn from others. Her students also use Chromebooks rather than desktop computers, enabling them to switch partners between tasks.

In her newly designed classroom, her students dive into her personal finance curriculum, which covers everything from insurance, to taxes, to budgeting, to credit, to investing, career planning and much more. She uses each lesson not only to instill lifelong money management skills but also to help set them up for financial success after they graduate from high school.

When they move onto her career unit, Laurie has students dress in business attire, and brings in community members to conduct mock interviews with the students. She wants them to get a more real-world feel for finding a job and eventually a career. She also wants them to walk away with a road map of how they will move from high school to success in their chosen career – whether that means going into the trades or pursuing a college degree.

It’s also why she brings in speakers from various careers – nutritionist to teacher to paramedic to entrepreneur. The speakers address educational needs, salary expectations and how to succeed on a given path.

However, Laurie has found that her students have not thought much about paying for college, student loans and credit card debt.

So, they also address types of loans, interest, the process and more. But what Laurie says the biggest impact is that her students go home and can talk with their parents about next steps – including whether a four-year degree is the best course of action and if money is available for college or other educational opportunities.

All of Laurie’s in-classroom lessons build a foundation of personal finance knowledge. But, it’s outside the classroom where her students learn it’s not a small world.

Several years ago, Laurie was “at Disney with my family and saw students walking around with a tour guide. I thought to myself, ‘I have to do this with my students.’”

For her, it’s an extension of the classroom – perhaps not a direct personal finance link, but it is a chance for her to instill real-world skills while helping strengthen friendships. For the students, some of those real-world skills include leaving Michigan for the first time, traveling on a plane, navigating an airport or bus system, and seeing a world outside their classroom.

Laurie said, “Walt Disney World is such a successful company, so it’s wonderful to show my students how the company was built from the ground up and how it has gotten to where it is today.”

The program Laurie and her students attend shows them the proven management and leadership strategies employed by the Walt Disney Company, and how effective leadership can spur innovation and promote personal and professional success.

After a few years of managing the program for her students, this year, she’s helping a teacher in Oregon bring the experience to her students. Joey Running, who she met at the annual National Business Education Association Conference, and her students will be joining Laurie and her students in Orlando, Fla., for a magical look at a 95-year-old organization.

Life, business and money all go hand in hand, and Laurie wants to ensure her students are comfortable navigating their world after high school and become successful in whatever their path may be.