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Rock Star Educator’s Name:
Jody Sandru

Twin Bridges Public School, Twin Bridges, Montana

Years as Teacher:
28 years

Grade Level(s): 

Business/Technology with emphasis on Media Arts (courses taught: Computer Tech (7th), Computer Applications (9th), Digital Photography/Yearbook, Multimedia/Student News, Entrepreneurship, Accounting, Street Law, Career Planning, and Personal Finance.


Making Money Matter

On Friday March 13th, and a full moon to boot, Jody left her classroom never imagining she would not return for the remainder of the 2020 year. Prior to that day, she always joked with her students that I wish I could just bring her new puppy, Monalisa, to school. Her wish came true and Monalisa is her new teaching assistant and makes cameo appearances in most of her videos. Adding humor and a look inside ranch life while teaching online has preserved the connections she treasures about teaching.

The magic of teaching is making connections with students and luckily this pandemic hit late in the year and Jody has an established bond with her “kids.” She remains in contact through texts, calls, emails and video chats. While everyone is missing the spring celebrations of their accomplishments, Jody says “the students have gained valuable skills that will benefit them in the long run.” Throughout the past ten weeks, teachers have taken technology to a new level. In one week, Jody’s school was able to pivot and launch eLearning. Under challenging circumstances, they showed their true colors—everyone stepped up, Zoomed in for meetings, and remained cohesive. Jody says, “I have never been so proud of my colleagues.”

Her students have mastered the online classroom management system that is a prequel to the college online portal system and will help them transition to the next level. They also learned the valuable soft skills of allocating time, being flexible and adaptable. Jody has witnessed how resilient her students truly are and says she took for granted all the classroom time they spend communicating and helping each other. For example, giving directions and answering live questions goes so smoothly. With eLearning Jody has beefed up her technical writing skills and works extremely hard to be concise. Her students have had to READ copiously and follow directions.

“Sometimes in life you must lose things to be profoundly grateful. We are all looking forward to the day when we can be back together again and have a new appreciation for good old-fashioned school!” says Jody.


Financial Education Requirement

“I firmly believe a financial literacy class is the most important class a high school student can take because right after they leave high school they reach the age of majority. The financial decisions they make can greatly affect their lives for years to come. Life does not come with an instruction manual, and debt can quickly snowball out of control at a young age. My goal is to continue to communicate with my legislators and advocate to my local school board to make personal finance a graduation requirement,” says Jody.

Another way Jody spreads the message about financial literacy is by having her classes create public service announcements on topics like savings, credit reports, student loans, and budgeting. This year she plans to have her high school students share money lessons to grades PreK to 6th grade. “My father set up a savings account for me the day I was born, and one of my favorite childhood memories is going to the bank with him every month to make a deposit in my savings account. The earlier we can teach about money skills, the more successful we will be in building a financially literate nation,” says Jody.


Called to Teach

Teaching was Jody’s dream from an incredibly young age and her grandmother fueled the flame. Effie Mae and all seven of her siblings were teachers. Her grandmother’s first teaching assignment was in a one-room schoolhouse in Canada and all her students spoke German. She always told Jody her first-year teaching was so rewarding because she taught every student English while she learned an entire new language herself!

“A grandmother’s love is one of God’s greatest gifts, and I was doubly blessed as my grandmother lived right across the alley. She had the gift of making any task animated with her keen sense of humor and remarkable art of storytelling.” By the time Jody was five, she could read, thanks to her Grandmother. This influence on Jody was a key factor in her opening “Sunset Kindergarten.” Of course, most of her students were her age or younger, but she even had lesson plans. Her grandmother was her mentor and at times the dean of discipline–when her cousins would try to play hooky, her Grandma would force them to show up for class!

“My teaching plans took a detour as I majored in business at college. I specifically enjoyed accounting and law and after graduation joined the corporate banking world. Technology was breaking into the financial world and it was exhilarating. After banking for ten years and celebrating the birth of three of my four children, my husband bought a ranch in Twin Bridges, Montana, population 400. Shortly after our move, I was offered the business teaching job at Twin Bridges High School. My banking experience was an asset to my teaching career because I was able to intertwine actual real-world experience with theory. My childhood dream and my true passion for teaching finally apexed and I am completing my 28th year at Twin Bridges High School,” says Jody.

My Teaching Style

One of my greatest goals is to help students build confidence and the longer I teach my most important task is to help my students understand how to invest in human capitalism and become the best version of themselves. This all begins by starting conversations, asking questions and being friendly. Building these connections is key to engaging students. I love to learn, and I think this mindset becomes contagious They see my passion for what I teach and try hard because I care! I enjoy keeping classes involved with lively hands-on projects and discussions.

Today’s apps and online resources are a smorgasbord of edutainment. There is no time to become stagnant in the teaching world, and technology has taught me the importance of staying current and embracing innovative methods, to keep my students engaged. While the apps and digital world greatly enrich my classroom, I always strive to utilize technology effectively by tying the technology use into the standard(s) I am teaching in every subject. Technology cannot simply be a reward or a stall tactic in the classroom. When technology complements instruction and is used for a well-developed goal it is a win-win situation for everyone.

Over the past five years, my teaching role has shifted to more of a coach than the age-old lecturer. I set the stage with creative openings and Socratic questioning and then I encourage my students to produce, collaborate, and enjoy the process. I switch up my instructional delivery frequently and love to use storytelling, kinetic movement, games, and multimedia projects. We always do first and debrief after with reflections, exit tickets and polls.


Go-To Resources

A few of her favorite apps are Flipgrid, Edpuzzle, Book Creator, Kahoot, We Video, and Canva. Google Classroom is her learning management system and during the eLearming time she has been using Google Hangouts or Meet for reaching out to her students.

Her curriculum relies heavily on Next Gen Personal Finance’s free curriculum and she is a huge fan of the Arcade, Fin Camp Friday, Projects, and Question of the Day. In addition, she finds amazing lessons on Take Charge America, and her local bank provides the Dave Ramsey series. It is wonderful to cherry pick all the best resources to provide of variety of unique lessons. Making lessons relative to the student’s age is a huge part of being successful. And, of course, timing is everything. For example, they start the career planning unit early in the fall so seniors understand college costs, student loans and prepare for scholarships early. They do the tax unit after the students have received their W-2s in January.

Another one of her favorite resources is the H & R Block Budget Challenge. This 10-week game simulates the roadway of life right after graduating from college and starting your first job. She loves that students must research and make consumer decisions about selecting a bank account, contributing to a 401K, buying insurance, picking a cell phone plan and choosing an apartment (to name a few.) The weekly quizzes reinforce understanding and spark great class discussions. The curve balls that come in via email (fender benders, burglaries) make this game so real. This game makes students accountable, teaches organizational skills and makes them read the fine print. Her students must reconcile their budget spreadsheet to the bank statement every Friday. As the game progresses it is fun to watch them complete this reconciliation with ease and she says she hopes it engrains a life-long habit. Budgeting and reconciling your bank statement are so important to her as she witnessed people paying for careless mistakes time and time again in her banking career.

Professional Development 

What really fuels Jody’s passion and motivates her to be the best she can be is attending the Jump$tart National Educator Conference (NEC).  Research shows that student improvement hinges on quality professional development for teachers and this conference never disappoints. From motivational speakers, to engaging workshops, to connecting with other passionate personal finance teachers Jody says she returns home fully invigorated. Through the years at Jump$tart she has made life-long friendships. Throughout this pandemic they have been Zooming and supporting one and other. “My network has grown exponentially, and my career has been enriched immensely because of Jump$tart,” says Jody.