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Empowering Her Students to Question Everything

Teacher:  Bonnie Maye

School:   El Segundo High School (El Segundo, Calif.)

Subjects:  Business accounting, marketing, finance, economics, entrepreneurship and English language development.

Grade Levels:  9th to 12th – Bonnie touches all four grades particularly because she teaches a business pathway course, which freshmen follow through their senior year.

Years Teaching:  Bonnie has been teaching for 23 years – most of that time in middle school, but seven years ago, she switched to high school.

Why Teaching:  “I have always been a teacher,” said Bonnie. She says she’s good at seeing how information flows, which helps her easily explain new ideas. She also concedes it may have come naturally from her mom, who was a classroom teacher.

Why Personal Finance:  When Bonnie started teaching, she was told to teach technology, but she was able to create her own curriculum. In designing her class, she was guided by a desire to ensure that when her students left the classroom they would have skills for life – such as personal finance. So, while she taught technology, she snuck in other lessons to prepare them for the real world.

State Financial Education Requirement:  In California, personal finance is not included in the state standard and is not required to be offered. However, recent legislation (Feb. 22, 2019 article) could require high schools to teach personal finance in economics.

Resources:  Bonnie said she uses the Jump$tart Clearinghouse and has been to a number of the National Educator Conferences. She also has used MoneySKILL, Next Gen Personal Finance and EverFi.

Her Story

“Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question,” wrote Jeff Boss in a article The Power of Questions (Aug. 2, 2016). “Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas and ideas (well, good ones) lead to innovation and dollar signs—ideally.”

And it’s questions that Bonnie wants her students to be empowered to ask.

The article isn’t what spurred her passion but it seems to embody the idea that Bonnie wants her students to take ownership of their future by asking questions – questions that can guide their decision making.

For Bonnie’s students, she says much of what is taught in personal finance may not be realistic. So her goal is to not only impart academic and money management knowledge but also to help her students develop a sense of who they are, who they want to be and what they want to achieve. Doing that, Bonnie says, gives them a better understanding of questions to ask in any situation – whether it’s deciding on a career, buying a car or saving for retirement.

One of the reasons the rules may not apply to Bonnie’s students is that they face a higher cost of living in California than other states. That means after basic rent and expenses, they may not be able to save 10 percent of their income, but they can save $10. It’s about the things her students can do to get ahead rather than following the “rules,” Bonnie said. It’s also about knowing what questions to ask that will help them make decisions that are best for their future – not someone else’s.

She instills this by “forcing personal finance” lessons into her classes and by helping them develop an inquisitive nature. Because personal finance isn’t required, Bonnie has the freedom to slip lessons in where they best fit. Bonnie says, she may teach accounting, but she knows her students are more likely to remember everyday money-management rather than generally accepted accounting principles.

In fact, one of Bonnie’s former students shared that he was required to take personal finance class with his company. He told her it was “scary how many 40-year-olds didn’t know what we learned in your class.”

But Bonnie knew.

It’s why she’s so passionate about personal finance and on focusing on the traditional personal finance lessons: budgeting, credit, loans, banking – in the context of asking questions and making informed decisions. Bonnie says, “It’s all about the choices you make. Even small ones can have a lasting impact on your financial future.”

In giving her students the “meat and potatoes of finances,” as Bonnie calls it, she takes a less traditional approach: the students are in charge of their learning and their lessons. While she sets them up with a curriculum, such as MoneySKILL or Budget Challenge, the students create their schedules and decide how to approach the lessons.

That doesn’t mean Bonnie leaves her students on a limb alone. Rather, on “Money Monday” and “Figure it out Friday” Bonnie works with her students on their questions, expanding the lessons and sharing stories.

By putting the lessons in her student’s hands, Bonnie believes they will develop the courage to ask questions, which helps empower her students to take control of their financial and future success.