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Teacher:  Talitha Oliveri

School:   Hopedale Junior Senior High School (Hopedale, Mass.)

Subjects:  Talitha teaches, “a little bit of everything;” including financial literacy, career and college planning, public relations, sports and entertainment marketing, and financial algebra.

Grade Levels:  9th to 12th (However, she said, predominantly 11th and 12th.)

Years Teaching:  20

Why Teaching:  Talitha worked in retail advertising for a few years straight out of college, but decided it wasn’t fulfilling. So, she went back to school to get into education, and, for the first 15 years focused on math. Talitha also said, “in the back of my mind in high school, I knew I wanted to do something for others.” She wanted the sense of gratification that comes from teaching, she said.

Why Personal Finance: After teaching for a dozen years or so, Talitha, found a course called financial algebra for seniors who weren’t college bound but needed math credits. When she found that class she discovered a new side to math – one that could be “more powerful to my students than their knowledge of how functions and equations work,” she said. That’s what sparked the shift to teaching personal finance.

State Financial Education Requirement:  In January, Massachusetts enacted a law that allows “state education officials to establish standards around financial literacy (that) schools could incorporate into their existing curricula in subjects like math, business and social sciences.” Learn more.

Resources: Talitha said she uses “a lot of Next Gen Personal Finance materials,” but also has used: Take Charge Today, the calculators on, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as well as the Jump$tart Clearinghouse. Additionally, Talitha believes conferences – such as the Jump$tart National Educator Conference (NEC) – allow her to network and learn about new resources, which enhance the students’ classroom experience.

Her Story

On their first day of class, Talitha’s seniors take a personal inventory of what they are wearing, carrying or ate that day. It’s an activity she learned from Adam Carroll, who spoke at the NEC in Dallas. The key is that the students write down everything:

Shoes. Socks.
Rings. Watches. Necklaces.
Pants. Top(s).
iPhone. Android.
Even undergarments.
Breakfast. Lunch. That latte on the way to school.

Once they have exhausted what’s in front of them, she goes a step further and has them account for everything at home – including what’s in their closet and in their room; whether they take prescriptions; have they had braces; are they involved in extracurricular activities?

With a now extensive inventory in hand, students apply a dollar value to each item to account for how much they cost as an individual – for that year and then they interpret what the last 17 (or so) years may have cost. Talitha says the students are always surprised by the numbers.

With eyes wide open about how much they cost, the students discuss “When Money Isn’t Real” the $10,000 Experiment a TEDx talk by Adam. In it, he discusses financial abstraction as the notion that as money becomes more abstract and less tangible, it changes the way people interact with it.

Talitha’s students reflect on these ideas then observe the change in behavior of Adam’s children when $10,000 of “cold hard cash” is put on the table for a family game of Monopoly. For the experiment, Adam withdrew a real; $10,000 from his bank account to replace the game’s fake money. They then played – but this time his kids had a much different perspective.

She then has her students write and share their financial words of wisdom. Talitha wants “students to reflect on what they have learned and come up with a phrase related to Adam’s message to share with students and parents. “Their words of wisdom are powerful, and really bring home the idea that handling money early and often can create a baseline for effective money management skills and ultimately financial stability,” said Talitha.

For example, her students have written:

  • Not managing your money young, robs your future.
  • Unless you have cash, it is better to save for the future to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.
  • Teach your child to be fiscally responsible and ensure they know that credit is real money and is not infinite.

It’s clear these early exercises make an impact and lay a strong foundation for the year’s remaining personal finance lessons, which cover traditional subjects such as college costs – or alternative education opportunities – net pay vs. gross pay, taxes, retirement, etc.

For Talitha, it’s critical that her students look at federal and state taxes and the savings they earn by putting more money into a 401K. Particularly with the new tax laws, Talitha wants her students to understand the brackets, terminology and implications.

Talitha also wants her students “to stop and think before they make financial decisions. If they don’t know the answer, I want them to go and find it.” She understands her students won’t know every nuance of personal finance, but with a stronger foundation and understanding they can find a resource to guide them or ask – and that may be more important than the financial lesson itself.

She also shares that on her first day in class, Talitha asks her students to make their first “Home Connection,” which is a way to open the financial lines of communication between students and guardians at the beginning of the course. Home Connections have the students ask their parents or guardians questions – the first one: “What was your biggest financial regret?”

The next day, the students share what they learned, and Talitha shares her story. In this case, it was that at 22 she bought a car and didn’t know anything.

“When I look back now,” she said, “I way overpaid. I was a young female in a male-dominated business and I really got taken advantage of.” It’s this experience that is one of the reasons she wants her students to be empowered to ask questions and to take charge of their financial future. She truly believes it will make a difference.

Outside the classroom, Talitha also is dedicated to advancing the financial literacy of the students in her school.

For the past four years, Talitha and her DECA students have run a financial literacy fair – FinFit4Life, which she started after being awarded a seed grant. The event simulates the cost of life for a recent college graduate. As students enter the fair, they are given a profession and salary; they then go from booth to booth, which are manned by professionals from the business community and parents, to choose an apartment, furniture, car, etc. – all without going broke.

The first year, the fair was only open to seniors, but in the second it was opened to juniors and seniors, which allowed students to participate in the fair twice. Talitha hoped by doing it twice student confidence levels and money management strategies would improve – and they did. The juniors, as expected, were for the most part lost, but with the seniors going through it for a second time, Talitha said she saw improvement.

The students understood not only the process of living within a budget but also the financial concepts they were learning. Volunteers commented on the change in confidence levels between the two grades and the higher level questions asked to enable students to make more informed budget decisions.

In fact, they went through the fair with a plan – something that in real life helps individuals get through without going broke.