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Laying Financial Principles Using the ‘Sugar Standard’

Teacher:  Pat Page

School:   East Greenwich High School (East Greenwich, RI)

Subjects:  Pat teaches management and finance classes, and serves as the advisor to the investment club and Future Business Leaders of America.

Grade Levels:  9 th through 12th (Her students also can receive college credit.)

Years Teaching:  12 years

Why Teaching:  Before becoming a teacher, Pat worked in both the private and public sector – but always related to education. She was in economic development and was on a number of boards that addressed literacy in the adult workforce. Pat says she quickly learned the definition of literacy depended on whether it was viewed through a corporate or educator lens. For Pat, it meant learning to bridge the language and got her thinking of becoming a teacher.

That idea was the foundation, but it was a college Dean who gave her a push. He thought she’d make a great teacher and offered her a money-back offer: Take his class and if she didn’t love it, he’d refund the cost of the class. She loved it and after five years, she became a teacher. And the Dean was right, she is a great teacher. In 2014, she was named Rhode Island Teacher of the Year and got to meet President Barak Obama. The meeting also set her up to expand her work on financial capability in Rhode Island and nationally.

Why Personal Finance:  Pat is dedicated to improving the financial literacy of the 1.06 million Rhode Island residents. However, it was when she was in the corporate arena where she saw the need to move financial education to the student level. Working in human resources, Pat saw people making financial decisions they didn’t understand. It’s how she approaches her personal finance classes – she wants to ensure her students are successful beyond the walls of high school, and Pat feels understanding finances is critical to their success.

State Financial Education Requirement:  Most Rhode Island high schools offer classes that include personal finance as an elective, but it is not required. However, recently introduced legislation would “require all public high schools to offer a class that includes personal finance beginning in the 2019-2020 school year and would require students to demonstrate proficiency in personal finance by the 2021-2022 school year,” according to a January 2019 article.

Resources:  After years of curating her own resources, Pat now, almost exclusively, uses those from Next Gen Personal Finance and augments with tools from Take Charge Today. However, she also uses the SIFMA Foundation Stock Market Game and H&R Block Budget Challenge.

Additionally, Pat has attended the Jump$tart National Educator Conference and will search the Jump$tart Clearinghouse when she is looking for additional tools to supplement her lessons or support teachers in other grade levels and districts.

Her Story

Pat describes her class as a project-based and experiential environment, which is evident on day one of her semester-long personal finance class.

They kick off the semester under the sugar standard.

Many teachers are aware of the University of Missouri Bean Game, but Pat uses Jelly Beans and jokes with her students that they are now under the sugar – not the gold standard. Of course, the United States hasn’t been under the gold standard since the 1930s, but some students don’t realize that, which opens a discussion on financial principles.

It also opens, she says, thoughtful and engaging conversations on nearly every topic they will then cover during the semester. And, perhaps more importantly, to Pat the exercise gets her students out of their Chromebooks and their desks and into groups.

As she lays out each group’s beans – aka salary – they then make decisions related to housing, transportation, groceries, cell phones, child care and whether to save. The students have to decide what is important – an apartment on their own, a free room in a parent’s basement or the newest cell phone or an old school flip phone.

It becomes an exercise in needs vs. wants.  And of opportunity costs – what is important and what can be given up to achieve the “sugar life” they are looking for.

All of this Pat says is a great jumping off point to the SIFMA Stock Market game and H&R Block Budget Challenge. She likes the simulations because they engage students in transaction-based decisions that align with the CEE National Standards for Financial Literacy and her lesson modules. Additionally, she melds in information from current economic events that impact decisions. (While it’s not a financial resource, she also uses Morning Brew to gather current business and financial news.)

Pat typically starts each class with an introductory question from the NGPF Question of the Day series or Data Crunch, moves into a mini-lesson on a topic, and provides opportunities to practice and apply a concept to a real-life situation.

At the end of the semester, the students walk away with a strong foundation of personal finance. And often say “personal finance has been one of the most important classes I’ve taken in my entire life because it doesn’t show me how to do abstract concepts – it takes the real-life scenarios and puts me through them,” Pat said.

But it’s perhaps the last lesson of the semester that has the greatest impact – on Pat herself.

At the end of the semester, the students conduct a post-mortem of the class. Just as in a corporate environment, Pat says, you step back and look at the process. She asks a couple of students to assume leadership positions and work in groups to evaluate the class. While she also gets formal, end-of-year survey evaluations, she finds the post-mortems invaluable.

The students look at the instructional tools, when lessons are introduced, and what may not have been successful. She also has them read “10 Tips for a Successful Post-Mortem.” Pat asks them to think about content, process and resultant products – which are enduring learning and takeaways.

Pat acknowledges that this may not be possible in all classes. Throughout the semester, she establishes a community and a sense of continual learning. Pat also shares that even when she makes a mistake, she admits it to the students. It’s this sense of trust that students understand and allows them to give honest feedback.

For example, in one feedback session, Pat’s students suggested that she start the fall semester with taxes – so that they could apply the lessons to their own taxes. Each semester, Pat uses the information to tweak and change the class.

It’s information that Pat appreciates receiving, but, in the end, it’s also important to her that her students walk away with personal finance skills and competencies they can use beyond the high school walls.