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‘Pop Quiz’ Kicks off Personal Finance Lesson
Teacher: Lori Adler
School: Bolton High School (Bolton, CT)
Subject(s): Lori teaches Personal Finance and Accounting 1 and 2, which also allow her students to earn community college credit. In addition, she teaches Introduction to Personal Finance, Marketing and Entrepreneurship. In addition, Lori is the advisor to Future Business Leaders of America.
Grade Level(s): All of Lori’s classes are electives for grades 9-12, but she primarily teaches sophomores to seniors.
Years Teaching: 35 years
State Financial Education Requirement: Connecticut does not require a personal finance course. However, Lori, who also volunteers with the Connecticut Jump$tart Coalition as Treasurer, is actively working to see this change.
Why Teaching: In her high school yearbook, Lori wrote that she wanted to be a marketing teacher. She also said she was influenced by her high school marketing class and the teacher, who inspired her to pursue education. “I had this idea that I could help children and have wanted to since I was young,” Lori said.
Why Personal Finance: Lori created the personal finance course at her school in 2002. She was passionate about personal finance and reinforced financial literacy with her own three sons; she wanted to ensure they were prepared. Lori also said her parents taught her about finance, but “noticed that students didn’t even know how to write a check.” So, she proposed the class and nearly 17 years later has reached hundreds of students.
Resources: Currently, Lori uses the Wall St. Journal, Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), MoneySKILL, the Stock Market Game and EverFi. Originally she used a textbook but shared that there are an abundance of materials out there, and noted that a lot of resources can be found in the Jump$tart Clearinghouse.
Before diving into the lessons, Lori gives her students a pop quiz (really just a pretest) to find out what they know about personal finance. They answer 35 questions like the one above and afterward go over each question. Some of the questions, she admits are outdated – mentioning, for example, 25 percent investment returns – but it introduces the concepts to her students and sparks conversations.
In fact, Lori said, it can take her three class periods to go through all of the quiz answers. And, while it takes time and they will go over the subjects more in-depth in the following weeks, she likes that the quiz opens her students up to asking questions.
But the ‘fun’ does end and the lessons do begin.
Lori starts her students off with NGPF and finding a career. She said, “if you’re going to have personal finance you need a job and you’re going to need to know how to earn an income that fits your skills, aptitude — and your lifestyle.” Lori stresses to her students that they should find a career that makes them happy; that life is more than money.
With ideas of a career in the back of their heads, Lori’s students start building a budget – that becomes their grade.
“From the first day of school,” Lori said, “we start off with a budgeting project.” For one month they have to keep track of their income and expenses and provide evidence. They provide a detailed list with receipts, paycheck stubs and must even account for borrowing money from the bank of mom and dad.
Using what they gathered, they create a budget for the next month. However, Lori also asks them to be aware of events – such as a friend’s birthday – and has them save 10 percent and invest 5 percent. Lori said, ”I want them to learn to save and invest now and not spend all their income.”
At the end of the month, they then compare their projected budget to what they actually spent and saved.
While a student doesn’t fail the assignment if they go over budget, Lori said they do have to explain what happened.
She shared that her students enjoy the assignment and often tell her they are surprised how much they spend on coffee, for example. Lori believes “once you see what you’re spending, you are more inclined to save than spend.” She also said they see that it’s possible to save and invest.
First, they address issues such as simply writing a check. While Lori acknowledges today’s generation isn’t writing as many checks – they use Venmo or other payment methods – they still need to know how. They also go over online bill payment and transferring money.
And because so many personal finance transactions are handled electronically, Lori and her students discuss ID theft and ways to keep information secure. She said when she starts the lesson, many of her students acknowledge that they keep their social security card with them. Later they are tucked away somewhere safe.
They also address, of course, saving – in a certificate of deposit, 401K, or a Roth or traditional IRA. For high school students, retirement seems a lifetime away, but getting started early is crucial. This summer, Lori found an article, Retirement Planning in High School? It’s Never Too Early, Experts Say, that she shared with her students. After the lesson, a few of her students shared that they went and opened IRA accounts.
At the end of the semester, Lori has her juniors and seniors participate in The Stock Market Game. They are required to diversify, write a report on how they did and pick five companies and share why they invested in them. Like the grade for their budget, if their portfolio wasn’t a market success as long as they can explain their choices, Lori’s students pass.
Finally, a bit of an aside, while Lori covers financial topics in her class she also stresses to her students that it’s important to connect with people. She shared that in high school she met a DECA teacher who helped her get into college. And on vacation, once, she met a commodity trader who gave her students a tour of the World Trade Center.
Money isn’t everything, Lori stresses; enjoying your family, connecting with others, and having a fulfilling life are keys to happiness.