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Rolling the Dice to Develop a Financially Literate Future

Teacher: Shirley Flack

School: Marietta High School (Marietta, Ga.)

Subject(s): Introduction to Business and Technology, Personal Finance (financial literacy), and Principles of Accounting. Shirley also is the advisor (and a big proponent) for Future Business Leaders of America.

Grade Level(s):  High school freshmen through seniors.

Years Teaching: 22 years

State Financial Education Requirement:  In Georgia, a high school economics class is required and personal finance is one of the standards within. A financial literacy elective also is available as part of the Business Accounting and Financial Services career pathways. In addition, in elementary and middle school, a personal finance standard is mandated as part of K-8 economics in social studies.

Why Teaching:  For Shirley, “teaching is (her) passion.” She shares that as a young girl she wanted to be a teacher like her aunt who was her role model. Shirley said she “seemed to know everything,” which Shirley aspired to be like.

Why Personal Finance:  Shirley’s undergraduate degree is in business, which led her to the corporate world and a position in human resources. It’s there where she saw the need to work with students who did not understand money. She saw that they needed to know how to manage money and how to make wise financial decisions.

Resources: Shirley uses Dave Ramsey’s Foundations for Personal Finance and EverFi. In addition, she finds resources on the Jump$tart Clearinghouse, through the Federal Reserve and the National Education Association.

Her Story

Shirley is driven by her desire to help her students build a strong financial foundation that will help them make wise financial decisions. She believes the decisions they make early on in life can help them develop a secure financial future–one, hopefully, with fewer costly mistakes than previous generations.

And for Shirley, to ensure her students are financially literate, she must make her lessons meaningful, relevant and fun. Because Shirley said, if students aren’t having fun, aren’t engaged and don’t believe that what they are learning is valuable, the lessons won’t hold meaning and won’t help them in the long run.

So, Shirley literally rolls the dice and turns personal finance into a game for her students.

When students first start her class, Shirley has them roll the dice to determine the life they will have for the first half of her year-long class.

First, they roll to determine their marital status–will the student be single, married, divorced or a widow?

They roll again.

If the student lands on one they will have one child; a six equates to six children. (All of her students experience at least one child in the game.)

And again they roll.

This time, the students determine whether they quit school, have an associate’s degree or even a masters or Ph.D. Each level of education equates to the salary they will earn in the semester’s game of life.

Once her students have determined their “lives,” Shirley dives into the lessons.

As the semester and lessons progress, each student’s life comes into focus, and each develops a budget that reflects the life they rolled.

While many of Shirley’s personal finance lessons focus on what students need today, she likes to add children and divorces to her classroom game of life to get her students thinking long-term.

For example, if a student is married a second income–or lack of–is taken into account, and with a child (or children) the budget must also include enough for food, clothing and other necessities to raise a family. And each budget line item–from housing and transportation costs, taxes, repairs and insurance–is taken into account. Shirley even addresses the costs of pets and pet insurance. All of this is to give her students a feel for the long-term implications of budgeting.

In addition, her lessons are reinforced by outside speakers who show that while what they may be doing in the classroom is a game, the concepts are real and have a real impact on students’ long-term financial success.

In the second semester—after learning about factors that could impact their income and life—the students move from the game of life to “real” life and begin to plan their career. They address questions like:

  • What is the best career fit for me based on my interests, aptitude and personality?
  • How do I get from high school to my chosen career?
  • Do I need a post-secondary education? Are there other options?
  • Will I join the military?

Shirley said, “while students do not need exact answers, they do need a plan.”

Students then make a five-year career plan, which includes their focus for their remaining high school year(s) and specific steps to meet their career goals. Shirley encourages her students to take advantage of free high school resources such as career and guidance counselors, exploratory courses and internships.

As they explore, the students also use the semester to find a job–in many cases a real job they can work over the summer. Shirley then has the students create a cover letter and resume, and participate in mock interviews.

After the career plan, students develop a financial plan–a personal one that reflects their life and career goals, not those decided by a roll of the dice.

Shirley encourages her students to avoid the pitfalls of debt by applying for scholarships and to consider other available options. They also explore savings and investment options for long-term financial goals. And their financial plan also includes retirement, which Shirley says is never too early to address.

It seems this combination of fun and meaningful lessons is working.

Shirley recently was stopped at a grocery store by a former student who said, “Ms. Flack, I am no married and my husband and I have a baby. We are budgeting and are in the processes of paying off the mortgage on our house.”

Students may roll the dice on a life for her class, but when they leave and are faced with the reality of budgeting and saving, the game becomes real and Shirley’s students are prepared.