Name: Deborah Sonnichsen
School: Foothill High School, Henderson, NV
Grade levels: 11-12
Subjects: Personal Finance, Special Education
Years as an educator: 11 years
Jump$tart Staff: “How do you make money matter to your students?”
Deborah: “My students are juniors and seniors in high school. Many of them are getting their first jobs, are interested in getting their first vehicle, or are looking toward life after high school. By addressing topics that are important to students, I bring relevance to the curriculum. By including stories of personal experiences with finance, I work to build legitimacy and connections with my students. I encourage students to share their experiences with finance if they are comfortable. It usually takes a while; however, I nurture a safe space classroom and students are free to express themselves. As a result, the longer a student is in my class, the more they are typically willing to share. I also have had the pleasure of meeting many people within the world of financial education and literacy who are generous with their time and talents. I have brought them in as guest speakers within my classes, inspiring my students to dream big dreams about what they can accomplish for themselves, and their families. The confidence my students have when they leave my class to be financially successful in the future is worth every moment of planning and instruction.”
Jump$tart Staff: “What is the financial education requirement in your state?”
Deborah: “Nevada changed Personal Financial Literacy Standards from Math to Social Studies Strand effective for 2021-2022. Additional legislation has been enacted during the most recent legislative session in 2021 to revise “academic standards and subjects within social studies, bringing financial literacy closer to its rightful role as a core subject within the curriculum (Sherrill, 2021).”
Additional efforts that I have been making to promote financial literacy education in Nevada have included letter writing campaigns, Financial Literacy Surveys and compilation of data, attending conferences, and reaching out to members of the Financial Literacy Advisory Council in the State of Nevada. I have also met individually with my supervising administrator, the administrator of curriculum, and the special education facilitator at my school to ensure that students who receive special education services be allowed to continue with Math of Personal Finance to help them meet graduation requirements.”
Jump$tart Staff: “Can you tell us about your calling to teach?”
Deborah: “I have been inspired to teach by two of my former teachers growing up. Mrs. Stearns and Mrs. Lohrenz were both amazing women who sought to meet students where they were and provided safe spaces in which they encouraged and fostered student curiosity. Having them as my teachers was pivotal for me. I wanted to do for students what they did for me: help students to feel accepted and supported, provide differentiated ways to demonstrate understanding, and be a haven for those who need it.
I sought my degree in education – and later specifically in special education, in part, because of the lessons I learned from these two powerful and influential educators.
After high school I worked in group homes for developmentally delayed young adults to pay for college. I found a love of providing my charges with achievable goals and outcomes. By twenty-one I was writing and implementing these goals as an outcomes manager.
While my entry into the world of education was delayed by circumstances, the experiences I had in the business world serve me well and I am able to use them to inform my instruction of students in personal finance.”
Jump$tart Staff: “What are your go-to resources for teaching personal finance?”
Deborah: “These are my favorite!”
- Next Gen Personal Finance
- JumpStart Clearinghouse
- Social Dilemma
- Harmony Social Emotional Learning
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Jump$tart Staff: “How do you teach during the pandemic?”
Deborah: “Teaching during the pandemic was incredibly challenging for me. I am a very hands-on teacher and having to work with students through a computer screen felt incredibly disconnected for me, as I am certain it did for many.
The modification and accommodation of instruction was made more difficult by students’ inability to competently use the different programs and learning systems that were required of them. I spent many hours working as a trouble-shooting tech support at the beginning of the year.
Additional challenges included the need to rewrite and/or amend Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students to reflect the current state of education during the pandemic. We stayed fully distanced until March, when some students went back to a hybrid model. Unfortunately, I was still required to maintain remote work due to an autoimmune disorder. This contributed to feeling disconnected from my students.
Teaching math concepts of personal finance to students requires a personal connection to be made with all the students in the classroom. Our topics of conversation are deeply personal in nature. Many students will not be open about topics unless they feel that connection. Personal and emotional conversations are a part of this class, and when you struggle to make connections through the computer, the teaching becomes more challenging and frustrating.
It was challenging to provide the individualized, differentiated instruction that many of my students required due to scheduling conflicts and connectivity issues.
I am very much looking forward to being able to greet my students face to face in the fall. We will once again be in person and able to hold the conversations needed in order to fully appreciate the depth and scope of the topics we learn about in Math of Personal Finance.”
Jump$tart Staff: How does the NEC effect your teaching?
Deborah: “Being sent to the JumpStart National Educator Conference (NEC) twice has had an incredible impact on the way I teach Personal Finance to my students. I have been able to connect with teachers and curriculum providers from across the country and have returned with fresh enthusiasm, ideas, and resources with which to teach my students.
JumpStart treats teachers like rock stars. We are provided with much needed support, generous gifts of tuition for the conference, and amazing inspirational speakers. Through the conference I have developed into a much more confident educator – not just in Personal Finance, but in general. I have been able to contribute ideas and suggestions in meetings, whereas before I would have been too reserved to do so. I appreciate all the opportunities for growth that I have been given.
JumpStart’s investment in teachers is an investment in our students. I have grown in so many ways through my attendance at conferences. I can teach taxes confidently due to contributors and sponsors resources. I have been able to incorporate gamified learning into my lessons through other resources that I have learned about at the NEC. I am hopeful to be able to return to the conference again this year in order to discover new resources to bring back to my students.
I hope that my enthusiasm and passion for the topic of personal finance is transferred to my students through my instruction and the classroom culture I create and foster with the help of JumpStart.”