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Real-world Projects for Financial Literacy

Teacher: Jay Davis 

School: Smyrna High School (Smyrna, Del.) Same school Jay graduated from – a few years ago.

Subject: Agricultural Business & Construction

Grade Level: High School – 9-12

Why Personal Finance: “Everybody can relate to money.”

Why Teaching: “I enjoy teaching. Every day is a new day. It’s fresh; it’s fun. My teaching style has changed from first day – 21 years ago. Even though some of today’s kids have the attention span of a gnat, due to so many external factors such as electronic devices and social media; you have to use the entertainment factor in order to keeping things moving.”

Resource: For the past 21 years, Jay has used the National Endowment for Financial Education’s (NEFE) personal finance booklets. (NEFE’s resources.)

His Story

It may seem ‘odd’ that personal finance is taught by an agricultural business and construction teacher, but as Jay says, not everyone is going into farming or construction, but everyone at some point is going to have a house and a paycheck. And, for that, understanding finance is important.

Jay also is in an enviable position; he gets his kids for three years, which gives him time to really develop concepts. His students do a record-keeping project and also sell items they’ve made. It’s all tied to curriculum and competitions connected through the National FFA Organization, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America.  Their online record-keeping project allows them to document work-related hours, skills, expenses, savings and investments. The project can span for over three years and allows students to receive recognition for their efforts. (Some students come in as a freshman and will do an independent study or co-op job their senior year; others come in as sophomores.)

The first year of the program is record keeping, but the meat of the financial education comes in the in the second year. That’s when those who made it through the first year, dig into managing money and learn the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur. Students budget, think about taxes, insurance and of course life beyond high school, thanks to the great resources incorporated into the classroom through the Jump$tart Financial Coalition and its many business partners.

In the third year, students put that financial knowledge to work and create a project to make money. It’s something Jay developed himself. The projects are often tied to many of the hand-on Agricultural programs offered at Smyrna High School, such as the shops and greenhouse program – for example, raising flowers that can be sold. The students have to figure out how much space is needed and how to make a profit – factoring costs like inputs, fertilizer, labor, etc. One of the things about agriculture is that there are factors you can’t control, which makes the project more real-world.

Jay says he’s preparing his students for the workplace or college – or whatever their next step is. He gives them a lot of opportunities.

It’s paid off. One of his earlier students came back to the school and shared that he started his own masonry business. As Jay says, “it means I’m doing something right and that we are positively influencing students, to be productive and financially responsible members of our community.