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Trying to Make a Difference and End the Cycle of Poverty

Teacher:  Colet Pierce

School:   H.W. Byers High School (Holly Springs, MS)

Subjects:  Business and academic computer technology, and STEM – only STEM program in the district.

Grade Levels:  8 through 12

Years Teaching:   Colet has been teaching for 30 years – 24 of those at Byers.

Why Teaching:  Colet started her teaching career as a substitute, which inspired her to go back to school to finish her degree and become a teacher. Because Colet lives and teaches in the community she grew up in, she said she feels like she’s giving back to the community.

Why Personal Finance:  While many teachers truly want to make a difference, Colet’s passion for teaching personal finance comes with a loftier mission: to end the cycle of poverty in her community. (More on this in Her Story below.)

State Financial Education Requirement:  Mississippi does not have a state financial education requirement, but each district must make it available.

Resources:  Colet pulls resources from the Jump$tart Clearinghouse as she needs, but also relies on: C.W. PublicationsEVERFi, the Federal ReserveNational Endowment for Financial EducationNext Gen Personal Finance and Working in Support of Education (W!se).

Her Story

For Colet, her community plays a role in why and what she teaches.

She shared that her community is largely unbanked; much of the older generation doesn’t trust banks and the community has a problem with payday loans and rent-to-own places. Colet wants that to change and said she’s “trying to improve the economics of the community by teaching children to (manage) their finances and to (avoid) payday loan and rent-to-own places.”

And, what she’s doing in the classroom is making an impact.

Last summer, Colet was approached by the mother of one of her students wanting to know why her son told her to cut up her credit cards. Turns out the son had taken to heart (and home) Colet’s lesson on credit and the dangers of debt. While the mother was upset, Colet invited the mother to her class to learn more – and she came; leaving with a greater understanding of credit and debt.

The following April, Colet got a call from a church group – the pastor’s niece is in Colet’s class – wanting a presentation on the value of using a bank. The request came when one of its members lost her house – and her cash savings.

Colet discovered that the group’s members – seniors relying on Social Security – only had bank accounts to cash their monthly checks.  They would leave the minimum balance in the account to hold it open, but then withdraw the cash and keep it at home. When a member’s home burned down she lost everything – including all of the money for the month.

Colet decided to take advantage of the presentation requests as a way to help her students build soft skills and learn to answer questions on their feet. She noted that many of her students do not attend college – instead, they work in local factories and soft skills can help them get ahead.

The students first prepare their presentations for the classroom and then tweak them for external events – such as the church group’s request and others that are beginning to come in.

She also expanded the idea by partnering her current students with 4th and 5thgrade classrooms. Her school site is a K-12 campus, which allows her personal finance students to share their knowledge with the other grades on campus.

In addition, some of her students are independently going into their churches and community organizations. For example, Colet shared that one of her students, during a monthly family gathering, does a 15-minute presentation on finance to her extended family. It has been going so well, that the family now asks questions beyond the student’s knowledge, which has encouraged her work with Colet on more advanced topics.

In terms of what Colet addresses in her class, she says she sometimes changes the syllabus, but it’s always a one-semester course. She often starts the semester by having her students bring in a dollar bill. They look at the bill to identify all of the information on it – such as date, serial number and signatures.

She then moves into checking accounts, and while most students use debit cards, Colet says she explains to her students that banks are run by people and sometimes mistakes happen. So balancing their account using a system like a check register can help them track transactions. When they move into credit, Colet has her students bring in credit applications – typically from a local department store. They review the fine print, look for fees (Colet stresses to her students to avoid credit cards that come with annual fees), the annual percentage rate and the consequences for not paying. She also shows her students that just paying the minimum payment may keep them in debt.

They then move on to cars; something the students love. However, Colet said they quickly discover the car they want is often the car they can’t afford – if they want to pay for other living expenses, which is the next topic they address. She said many of her students are often unaware of the costs to run a home.

She wraps up the semester with budgeting. Colet received a grant and was able to get a set of classroom iPads that are used to play Next Gen’s Payback game and a game called On Your Own Coast to Coast where students pick a place to live (typically in California Colet shared), pay for groceries and deal with emergencies. Both games help students see the reality that finances play in their day-to-day lives.

Colet is slowly beginning to see a change in her students and their families. She said fewer are using payday loans and rent-to-own places as often. She also has begun receiving “thank yous” from parents and extended family members she encounters within the community. Many tell her “I am doing better managing my money or I actually made it from one payday to the next without taking out some type of loan.” Colet said, “she is happy to see the hard work her students have put into sharing about personal finances paying off and hopes it will continue.”