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Resources That Make Standard Lessons Fun

Teacher: Sharon Paul (She is pictured right with a Will Gale, a representative from Jump$tart National Partner Visa, and her husband Howard Paul.)

School: Hayfield Secondary School (Alexandria, Va.)

Subject(s): Sharon is a mathematics and economics personal finance teacher, and co-advisor for the National Honor Society.

Grade Level(s):  9-12

Years Teaching:  24 years

State Financial Education Requirement: Virginia requires the equivalent of one year of Economics and Personal Finance for both a Standard and Advanced Studies Diploma.

Why Teaching:  Since Sharon’s strongest subject was math, she entered college with the hopes of being a math major.  However, as a college freshman, her academic advisor sat her down and told her math was too hard for her and suggested she study liberal arts with only a concentration in math. After taking Finite Mathematical Structures with the “awesomely passionate Professor Alan Tucker,” she realized the impact math could have in the ‘real world’ and changed her major to Applied Math and Statistics. It was in this new major that Sharon was exposed to areas such as Game Theory and Operations Research and sparked the desire to go back and to teach some of the “cool branches” of math she missed out on – she wanted to instill her new found passion for math in the next generation.

Why Personal Finance: The idea of teaching personal finance was sparked two decades ago when Sharon reconnected with her high school sweetheart and now husband – a financial analyst. As their personal relationship grew, so did a professional one – she became licensed to assist him in growing his business while at the same time maintaining a math teaching position at their high school alma mater. In addition to serving their personal clients, the two had a positive impact on their community by conducting seminars and workshops for churches and Parent Teacher Associations. They focused on insurance, investing for retirement, and planning for a child’s education. It’s this background that she brought with her when they moved to Virginia and she incorporated personal finance into her classes.

Resources:  Fairfax County Public School teachers use eCART (electronic Curriculum, Assessment and Resource Tool) as one way to share resources across the county. The Economics and Personal Finance course has nearly 600 resources ranging from complete lesson plans to PowerPoints, to activities within eCART that are ready for immediate classroom use. The two real-life simulation programs that are used across the county are Virtual Business Personal Finance and EverFi. However, Sharon also incorporates other resources that bring personal finance to life. (More on resources in “Her Story” below.)

Her Story

When Sharon entered teaching, she wasted no time. Sharon piloted a new math curriculum, contributed to a new textbook, collaborated with the City University of New York on a new Pre-College Honors Program, and founded the “Institute for Young Women in Mathematics” with the help of a Mathematics Association of America grant. Five years ago, after 19 years of teaching Mathematics, Sharon was given the opportunity to utilize her professional background in Insurance, Finance, and Real Estate to teach Economics and Personal Finance (EPF). She jumped into this new role with pure excitement. To ensure that she remained an expert in her new subject area, she completed numerous courses, webinars and trainings, which included a multiday Jump$tart Financial Foundations for Educators Training as well as various W!SE Webinars. With a standard scope and sequence followed by all EPF teachers in the county, Sharon could easily just use what is provided, which is very comprehensive. However, Sharon enjoys adding her own spin to an already complete curriculum. A few of her favorites follow.

A few years ago Sharon reached out to CARE – Credit Abuse Resistance Education, which was created to teach high school and college students about the responsible use of credit and the consequences of credit card abuse. Sharon said, for Hayfield students, it was a bit of a two-for-one since CARE speakers are bankruptcy attorneys. Her students not only learned about responsible credit use, but she also tied the lesson to career planning – introducing students to one path in the legal profession.

Funding the Future – GOODING
Sharon, who has attended the National Educator Conference (NEC) has seen GOODING, from Funding the Future, perform twice – once at the conference and once at her school. She said the concert at the school was like nothing she’d seen before. Gooding, gave a 30-minute rock concert, followed by a multimedia presentation focused on debt and savings, then a question and answer session and a meet and greet – complete with an autograph session.

Not only did the students think the music was great, the teachers also enjoyed the show.  Sharon shared that one teacher ran back to her classroom to put on her “rock jacket” and danced in the aisles with the students. After the music segment, the band’s financial presentation was engaging, touching on some of the topics they covered during the school year. This event was a great way to cap the year.

Federal Government  
It’s less than 20 miles from Sharon’s high school to Washington, D.C., which opens up tremendous opportunities for first-hand experiences at, for example, the Federal Reserve. In December 2017, Sharon was able to arrange a meeting for about 20 Hayfield students to meet with then-Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. The students were able to ask her questions and partake in a photo-op or two. However, more importantly, Sharon said it was “about creating a unique once in a lifetime opportunity.”

From YouTube videos to full-length feature movies, Sharon uses various video options to keep her students engaged. Sharon follows each of these videos with a combination of classroom discussions and written assignments.

  • Suze Orman: As many teachers do, Sharon likes to use real-world numbers and examples to reinforce classroom lessons. One way she does this is by using various Suze segments from CNBC that line up with her lesson plan such as:
    • 1-on-One, which feature individuals who come to Suze for advice after they have made decisions that negatively impacted their finances. Suze offers suggestions on how to get back on track.
    • How Am I Doing? focuses on retirement. People give Suze their entire portfolio and she determines if they are on track to retire by their desired age.
    • Can I Afford This? features people asking Suze if they can afford a certain item given their income, expenses and savings. Sharon said these are the segments the students enjoy the most.
  • Steve Harvey: While Steve Harvey first thought of as a comedian, Sharon uses a clip from his show during her career lessons. The key to any successful financial plan is finding and keeping money coming in, which is important to pay expenses and save for the future. However, at times, you have to move on from a job. To add levity to the lesson, she shows a clip of funny ways that people have resigned from their jobs. While more of a-what-not-to-do than a-what-to-do, it keeps her students engaged.
  • Movie Clips: Sharon says movie and sitcom clips are one of her favorite ways to share money and career lessons. Her favorite might be the “Incredibles” because she may identify a bit with Mr. Incredible (an insurance agent). Sharon also pulls math examples from “Money Ball” and has fun with “Brewster’s Millions.”Brewster’s Millions,” the 1945 version, follows a soldier, home from his tour of duty, who learns that he will inherit $8 million only if he can spend the first $1 million in 60 days – and have nothing to show for it – or ultimately will inherit nothing. Sharon says she likes to show it at the end of the semester – after they have spent months learning the virtues of saving. Still, she said, it does reinforce the concept of assets, and sparks conversations about spending – and saving. In class, there are times when some laughter is needed. So, Sharon shows clips from the sitcom “Friends” on what not to do on a resume, to the “I Love Lucy” iconic chocolate scene in her production functions lesson, to “It’s a Wonderful Life” to show a bank run.

Current Events
Sharon also likes to use both current and past news events in class. For example, when the most recent data breach occurred, Sharon had her student’s text their parents to check their credit scores. The parent responses, Sharon said, were entertaining; parents were surprised to get such a text from their child. At times Sharon may assign a current event such as when Fearless Girl joined Charging Bull on Wall Street.

As this school year comes to a close, Sharon is already planning for next year. Sharon is looking forward to planning a Family Financial Night for the community and plans to attend the Jump$tart Annual Conference. Sharon says, “The Jump$tart conference is such a wonderful opportunity to connect with teachers across the United States and to get new ideas.” Sharon is always on the lookout for new resources to keep her students engaged.