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Teaching it Forward

Teacher: Joel Chrisler

School: Sauk Prairie High School (Prairie Du Sac, Wis.)

Subject: Social Studies Teacher

Grade Level: High School – 11-12

Why Personal Finance: Joel not only attended the same high school where he now teaches, he took the same class he now teaches. But, he said, there were so many more things I should have been taught – that inspired him to take on the class and make it more relevant.

Why Teaching: For Joel, he knew he wanted to be a teacher for as long as he could remember. He said, “history and social studies always interested me, and then in the 1980s I became interested in economics. Our family farm was struggling financially and was eventually lost to bankruptcy. It was the first time I saw my dad cry. Seeing a tough economic time affect my family made me want to prevent that from happening to others. I still have made my share of mistakes and am not afraid to admit it to my students. I always tell them, ‘I have made the mistakes so they won’t have to.’ Teaching financial literacy is the ultimate in education … knowing you will make an immediate and lasting impact on the lives of your students. Education doesn’t get any better than that.”

Resource: As Joel says, “even though I’ve been doing this a long time, I strive to provide current, up-to-date information for my students. I like to refer to my class as ‘Real Life 101.’ Since things are constantly changing, I’m always looking for relevant resources. Attending the National Educator’s Conference has opened my eyes to all the wonderful options out there; the Jump$tart Clearinghouse has been invaluable as well.”

His Story

Joel has been teaching Consumer Economics for 27 years. He has solidified his nine-lesson, 18-week program that covers consumerism, basic economics, career exploration, taxes, paying bills, saving, investing, credit, buying cars, insurance and housing. And, while the school is changing its schedule to a trimester and Joel will have to cover the same program in 12 weeks, he’s “comfortable and confident that (he) can make it just as effective as (he) does now.”

That’s important because, while he’s making an impact on his students, his students also are teaching it forward – something he wants to see continued.

One element of his lesson plan involves a volunteer project (although those who wish can opt out and write a paper). Students from his class go into an elementary school (grades 1-4) classroom to provide basic personal finance lessons such as needs vs. wants and savings and earning.

The program was developed after The Bank of Prairie du Sac gave Joel a scholarship to attend Jump$tart’s 2008 National Educator Conference. He and the bank decided they wanted to work together and get students back into the community and give financial lessons to younger students. And, in 2010, the Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program was born.

When it first launched, Joel focused on getting students into first- and fourth-grade classrooms, and, since then has expanded to second- and third-grade classrooms.  He takes his student volunteers through not only the lessons they will give, but they also brainstorm questions they may get asked. So, when his student volunteers enter the classroom as ‘teacher,’ they are fully prepared to teach younger students the basics of personal finance.

His first year, Joel had 32 volunteer students who gave 10 lesson presentations to 14 different first- and fourth-grade classes in four days. Today, more than 50 students go into 15-20 elementary classrooms — each semester.

The peer-to-peer program has been a success all around. Joel says the elementary school teachers love seeing their former students come back and take command of the classroom for 45 minutes, and to the first- through fourth-graders, those high school students are “rock stars.” But more importantly, personal finance lessons are reaching not only Joel’s current students, but also, potentially, his future students.

Finally, while seeing his students succeed is the primary objective, it’s nice having work recognized. Joel’s Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy program earned him, in 2011, the Robert W. Baird/Economics Wisconsin Excellence in Teaching Economics and Financial Literacy award, and, in 2012, the Excellence in Teaching Award, which was presented by the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy. (Related information.)