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Weaving Finance and Fabric

Teacher: Leah Bratcher

School: Marina High School (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

Subject(s): Leah is a Family and Consumer Science (FCS) teacher and this year teaches, Graphic Design, Fiber Arts and Design, Fashion Design, Environmental Design (also called interior design) and Advanced Environmental Design.

In addition, Leah serves as the FCS Financial Literacy Program Coordinator for the state of California, and teaches personal finance to Family, Career and Community Leaders of America students.

Grade Level(s):  9-12; all of her classes mix all four years.

Years Teaching: Leah just started her 19th year of teaching.

State Financial Education Requirement:  In California, personal finance is not included in the state standard and is not required to be offered. However, FCS integrates personal finance into its standards, which means, Leah weaves the concepts into each of her classes

Why Teaching: “I was never going to be a teacher,” said Leah. “Who knew?” But, as Leah says it “just sort of happened.”

Leah was studying fashion and fashion design, and often helped other students with their assignments, which prompted her professor to encourage her to pursue teaching. Leah shares that at the time she was a single mother and thought a consistent paycheck, benefits and summers off (something she laughs about now) would be best for her and her daughter.

And while Leah may have chosen teaching for “practical reasons,” she fell in love with it.

Why Personal Finance:  A focus on teaching personal finance didn’t develop until 10-12 years into Leah’s teaching career – at the tail end of some personal struggles. As a single mom, Leah said at times it was a challenge to make ends meet, but she landed on her feet. “I feel I did very well, and I was very proud of myself and my accomplishments,” Leah said. However, in going through the experience, she also realized that others needed to learn what she knew – inspiring her to teach others personal finance.

Resources:  Leah is a huge proponent of Next Gen Personal Finance. She said, “They know teaching. They know what kids need. They have all of the resources.” For her, it’s a one-stop shop including videos, handouts, lessons and more that she and her students need. However, she also shared that she has used H&R Block Budget Challenge, resources from the Federal Reserve, the Jump$tart Clearinghouse and the National Endowment for Financial Education High School Financial Planning Program.

Her Story

On the surface classes that involve fabric swatches, color palettes and occasionally wallpaper paste, may seem an unlikely place for personal finance lessons. However, for Leah it has proven to be a perfect match.

Leah’s classes focus on preparing her students for future careers – whether it be as a fashion designer, an interior designer or graphic designer. And to help her budding entrepreneurs, she weaves elements of personal finance into her lessons.

“In my classes,” Leah said, “I feel like my kids get bits and pieces of personal finance.” But, in the end, they walk away with a (conceptual) toolkit they need to design secure financial future based on their ideal career.

The first item added to the toolkit: a budget.

However, Leah’s students take a different approach to its development. She has her students create a spreadsheet to price out items (i.e., furniture, wall coverings, patterns, fabric, etc.) that would be used to create, for example, a new dress or a luxury kitchen. And while the spreadsheet may not have the traditional elements of a personal budget, the assignment instills the idea of staying in the black and accounting for expenses.

The assignment also takes budgeting a step further, because Leah’s students have to remember that their budget can’t simply cover expenses, it also must include upcharges to cover service fees and create an income.

Leah emphasizes that the students’ expertise and originality – and education – are worth compensation and need to be included in their budgets. “Anyone can go online and order things for their house,” Leah said, but interior design is a skill – a skill that takes an education that comes at a cost.

And that cost has increased – something that frustrates Leah.

“All the kids are hearing is that they have to go to a four-year school,” said Leah. But, “a four-year education does not equate to a job after graduation. You need skills.”

And for Leah, those skills can be earned by going to a two-year school, attending a trade school or discovering a different path. In emphasizing that having a degree does not guarantee a job, Leah also addresses how to navigate these various educational paths and how much it will cost.
Much of the lesson, is rooted in Leah’s experience with her daughter, who attended a higher cost university. Today, her daughter lives at home because her salary doesn’t cover her loans let alone provide enough to live in Southern California.

Leah believes the emphasis that all students should get a four-year degree has overshadowed part of the conversation that we should be having about the ratio between what an education costs and the salary a student will earn from a degree after graduation.

“Nobody talks about how much money students will make after graduation,” said Leah. And it is this lack of conversation she believes that has skewed her students’ perception of the costs and the benefits of a four-year degree.

To help her students understand, Leah lists a number of careers on the blackboard and asks them how many years of higher education it takes for certain careers and the related salaries.

The students were way off.

For example, she shared that some of her students thought a real estate agent needed a four-year degree, and that truck drivers’ salaries are negligible and that they don’t need an education.

It’s an eye-opening lesson for Leah’s students. However, the lesson helps give them perspective as they focus on their own future career and the education they will need to succeed. It also compliments the personal finance lessons.

By understanding the costs of an education, the skills they will need to be successful and the salary they are likely to earn, Leah’s students are better prepared not only for a career but also for long-term financial success.