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Rock Star Educator’s Name:
Phil Riemer

Mendoza Elementary School, Las Vegas, Nevada

Years as Teacher:

Grade Level(s): 

Primary Autism


Making Money Matter

Phil is a leader at school for engaging teachers with resources to help teach students in money decisions.  Phil grew up in a family of six kids and learned early on that being thrifty with money was important for the family and himself.  Finances were not taught in school, but working at the age of 14 taught him that it was important to be able to learn how to use a checking account and how to have money available for things he needed, such as clothes for his summer job.  As he grew up and attended college, watching finances was even more critical, as grants and other financial aid could only last for so long!

Phil graduated with a degree in Social Work and quickly returned to school to become a teacher.  It was in the early stages of his teaching career that he began to realize how important it was to pass along key information to students, using a classroom economy to help students learn the value of saving over the immediate satisfaction of getting a desired reward.  “This concept is invaluable in helping students see that their current actions will have a profound effect on their lives in high school and beyond,” says Phil.


Financial Education Requirement

Beginning in 2022, all Nevada students will be required to take economics for graduation. This is the course that most districts choose to embed the required financial literacy standards. Currently the standards must be met by each student, but there is not a specific course.


Called to Teach

Phil has always enjoyed working with young people, even when he was one himself.  Phil was a member of the Milwaukee Boys Club (now the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee), and at age 13 would be asked to cover the office duties when the secretary was not available.  Keeping track of money and learning how to complete daily receipts and log books (not on a computer) was one of the skills he learned and was asked to teach to incoming staff.  Prior to that, as a ten-year-old, Phil worked with six and seven-year-old members on group skills, getting along with others, and learning how to respect the adults who were trying to assist.  His first paid job at 14 was at a summer camp, and he worked there for 9 summers, eventually becoming the office manager and working the camp director on budgets and paying bills.

This background catapulted him into his teaching career, and upon leaving Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for Las Vegas, Nevada, Phil became a school leader in helping develop financial education skills in his colleagues after attending several professional development classes provided by the district and NGPF.  His students with autism enjoy working with coins, which helps them develop skills that they can use in the community with their parents:  speaking to cashiers, counting coins and bills to provide enough money to purchase items, and learning manners by saying “thank you” when done.  These ideas are shared with colleagues at all different grade levels on campus, and students are expected to demonstrate manners and financial skills when purchasing items at the school store.


Go-To Resources

Early in his career, while teaching third- and fourth-grade students, Phil taught his students how to use a checkbook to increase adding and subtracting skills as well as higher-level thinking skills:  students were given an amount in their checking account and earned money to deposit by performing tasks such as completing homework, having their desk clean, making sure the appearance of the classroom was good, and by being ambassadors for younger students.  Students were responsible for making sure their deposits and totals were correct and were taught how to write checks to purchase things they wanted in class, such as a night without homework, time to work with a partner, or extra computer time; they were then responsible for subtracting the amount from their account.  This was an invaluable lesson for the students because if they did not have enough in their account, they could not purchase the reward, which teaches students to be more frugal with their money.

Phil has attended the last two Jump$tart conferences and brought back materials to share with his colleagues and to teach them how to utilize the information learned during the seminar workshops.  Being able to differentiate for a variety of grades as well as providing enough visuals for English language learners is key to the success that Phil enjoys and that his colleagues are able to demonstrate to their students.  One fun resource Phil’s students with autism thoroughly enjoy is Peter Pig’s Money Counter, where students earn money online by performing different tasks, then they are allowed to purchase wardrobe items for Peter Pig.  Even his kindergarten students are being taught that it is not always necessary to have the “best” pair of shorts–if you only have a couple dollars saved, then it is best to get the cheaper shorts.  This Social Studies skill of needs and wants is one that can be carried into their lives outside of school–you need shoes but you don’t necessarily have to have the ones that cost $100 that you really, really want.  Modeling this lesson for a fifth grade class teaches the same lesson–if you do not have enough in your savings to buy that video game, then you either do without or wait to build your savings.  During the lessons, students are constantly reminded that when you get older, you need to plan for what you want to buy, and make sure you have enough money saved for when things break.

Phil has also differentiated lessons found in the NGPF Teacher Toolkit.   With three different grade levels in one room, Phil and his aide work with students on skills found in the Differentiation section; since communication is a goal for all of his students, they are able to write or dictate from items found in the 20 Differentiated Instruction Strategies section.  Students also utilize the Daily Starters Page to listen to stories then be able to either count items that they see (for those whose communication skills are a deficit) or write stories based on what they see (for those whose skills are a little more advanced).  The more advanced students are then able to take their assignments and work with peers in other classrooms in order to share their knowledge across the campus.


How This Rockstar Teaches During a Pandemic

Phil’s students crave and need routine and consistency, and they enjoy the repeated lessons during math and communication in order to master skills at their young age.  As such, when working with his students and their parents online, they do a lot of manipulation of digital coins and use them to practice making certain money amounts.  For the older kids on his caseload, Phil uses story problems to help students use their adding and subtracting skills while also using bills and coins to elicit appropriate answers to situations that could come up in everyday life.  Phil and his students are anxiously awaiting the “all-clear” so they can all get back to school!