April is National Financial Literacy Month. I wanted to take the opportunity to share why we here at Lake County High School in Leadville have chosen to teach all of our students to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.
In 2017, we reviewed and revamped our graduation requirements. As part of this process, we became one of the only schools in Colorado to require a semester-long personal finance course of every student to graduate.
The class of 2020 will be our first class graduating under our new requirements, and every single student will have taken and passed an entire semester of financial education.
Our district made this change because of our belief that providing financial education to our students is social justice. What drives me as an educator in a small, rural school with high poverty is to do everything I can to make sure my students have the same chance as a student who grows up in a more affluent zip code. Teaching personal finance to every student, no matter their background or previous knowledge, is how I can ensure they all graduate ready for the future that they choose.
The course covers a plethora of topics: taxes, checking, saving, investing, credit and debt, insurance and budgeting.
Students learn the personal finance lessons from the past, such as the envelope system for budgeting and how to write a check. They also learn about modern personal finance tools, such as peer-to-peer payments (think of CashApp or Venmo) or robo-advisors for cheaper investment fees (such as Betterment or Wealthfront).
We discuss who should take out a life insurance policy, research ways to cut down on grocery expenses, brainstorm all the ways an emergency fund could be useful, argue over the risks and benefits of an 18-year-old getting a credit card and so much more.
If you were to watch my class, you would notice the amount of time students spend talking about personal finance topics. You will see students share their opinion of whether an 18-year-old should buy a new car and what the costs of doing so would be. You will hear students argue over a new debt repayment plan during a role-play on working with creditors.
Students learn to ask questions of me and each other and to continue asking questions and talking about money even when they are done with the course. I see all of the open discourse in my class as the beginning of a lifetime of discussing, learning, and sharing lessons about money.
As one of my students said in a reflection, “It is arguably the most important class that we as students have taken. It has prepared us for the struggles of taxes, loans, finances, etc. I believe all of us are that much more prepared for life and think that everyone deserves this knowledge and opportunity to learn about this material.”
A month ago, I had a student let me know that she had just filed her taxes on her own. She did it using a free app that she learned about in our taxes unit, and she had also been able to explain to her doubtful mother why it was a good idea for her to file as a teenager.
That is what I envisioned when I advocated for the course to become a graduation requirement: empowering students with the knowledge and confidence to forge their own path in the financial world.
I encourage students, parents and community members to advocate for making personal finance a required semester-long course for every high school in your district. Free curriculum and professional development is available for teachers at Next Gen Personal Finance (ngpf.org) or through MoneyWiser workshops (econlitco.org/ags-office-workshops).
Financial education is just as valuable to today’s students as any English, math, science, social studies, art, music or any other course that districts require. Every student must learn to read; this should also include learning to read a credit card statement.
Karl Remsen is a math and personal finance teacher at Lake County High School in Leadville. He can be reached at kremsen@lakecountyschools.net.