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Putting Retirement First With a Side Shot of Espresso

Teacher:  Allison McFadden

School:  Capital High School (Olympia, Wash.)

Subjects:  Allison teaches business; law; digital design; financial algebra, which includes personal finance; and a course for the Espresso Store (more on that below). She’s also advisor to the Future Business Leaders of America.

Grade Levels:  9th through 12th, however in financial algebra, Allison typically works with juniors and seniors.

Years Teaching:  36

Why Teaching:  Allison says she started teaching “a long time ago,” and always knew that she wanted to do something with kids. She also shared that there are a lot of teachers in her family – so it seems her desire to help kids “become productive members of society” was in her blood.

Why Personal Finance:  There wasn’t an overnight change in Allison’s focus on personal finance; it evolved, she said. Allison said she saw a lot of teens starting out in debt, and not really understanding how and why they got there. She thought if she could help them upfront, they’d be better prepared for their future.

She believes that “personal finance standards can be incorporated into any course, at every grade level and that it should be a graduation requirement for every student.” Allison said, “planning for your future self will help future generations avoid what happened in our society over the last decade. It’s a need – not a want – that we have an obligation to teach.”

Additionally, while her passion for personal finance and financial education may have evolved, Allison also is a Financial Fellow for Financial Education Public Private Partnership and is a trainer for teacher education. She also promotes the importance of financial education to state congressional representatives.

Her passion for financial education has clearly has grown.

State Financial Education Requirement:  Washington state has adopted standards but personal finance is not a required course.

Resources: When Allison started there “weren’t a ton of resources for teaching personal finance – there wasn’t even the internet,” she said. However, today, there are hundreds. Allison focuses primarily on tools from Take Charge at the University of Arizona, Next Gen Personal Finance as well as resources from the Federal Reserve or those found in the Jump$tart Clearinghouse.

Her Story

Only a few days into her personal finance class, Allison has her students thinking about, of all things, retirement. She wants them to picture where they will be and how they will live at the end of their career so that they understand how the choices they make at the beginning (and along the way) impact their future life.

To do that, she has her class do a lifecycle project, which goes through three stages:

1.     Where they are today,

2.     As a member of the working world, and then

3.     Retirement.

Like many, Stage 1 is easy for her students and even Stage 2 is comprehendible, but Stage 3 seems like something they can think about when they are older. However, Allison says with time and compound interest on their side now is the time for her students to put their future first.

With retirement in mind, she has them develop SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goals and has them think about exactly where they’d like to be – a house or a condo, in the city or country. Allison wants her students to have a concrete picture of their future.

She says she “focuses on the end first so that the choices that they make in the earlier stages of their life make more sense – building an emergency fund, savings tools, credit, insurance, budgeting, taxes and investing.” By helping her students develop a vision of their future, Allison believes her classroom lessons will have more impact.

At the end of the year, she takes her students back to the start of class and their SMART goals to determine if those goals, with new insights, would hold up and would help them achieve the retirement they are dreaming of.

For Allison, since a lot of her students are seniors, she hopes their goals supported by her lessons combine to create a roadmap they can use as they leave for college or head out to a “real world” job. And, she hopes, it helps her students achieve their retirement goals.

The Espresso Store

While it’s a separate course from financial algebra, the Espresso Store is another way for Allison’s students to become familiar with dollars and cents.

For nearly 13 years, Allison and 25 students each year have run and operated an Espresso Store during lunches and open houses – and other special events. The store sells – in addition to Espresso – coffee drinks, smoothies and blended drinks, as well as Cougar (the school’s mascot) gear and helium balloons.

Students can enroll in the Espresso Store class any time during high school, but first-year students serve as the baristas and learn the art of coffee making and money management – from conducting sales to balancing the register at the end of a shift. After mastering latte art and money management, students move up the ladder and serve as managers, and are responsible for scheduling, inventory, financing, promotion and general store management. During the year the student managers rotate through each responsibility to learn all parts of the business.

One of the store’s main fundraising events pairs lattes and love.

For Valentine’s Day, the students sell helium balloons to be delivered to that special someone on February 14. The key for the students is that they must market the event, determine inventory and schedule deliveries. It’s akin to a final exam and putting all the lessons to work.

And, while the event helps the Espresso Store earn about $2,000 a year, Allison admits that profits aren’t the purpose, instead are a byproduct that benefits school’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America.

Another benefit of the store is that the students learn about different careers. By introducing her students to what may seem a simple coffee shop, Allison’s students learn about careers from retail to accounting to entrepreneurial ship and even product development. Most years, Allison, is able to take the students to a Coffee Fest, which is a specialty coffee trade show. There they attend workshops and see new products and talk to those in the field.

For Allison, the Espresso Store gives her students the opportunity not only to learn about money and business but also about themselves and where they see their future self.