Personal finance educator Melissa Schroeder opens each semester at Eveleth-Gilbert High School in Eveleth, MN the same way. She prompts her students with the question, "What does success mean to you?"
Initially, not all of her students thought success meant being financially secure, but by the end of the course every student was able to benefit from her personal finance lessons. Melissa has some students who pay for their own expenses already. Others start her course without the basic knowledge of financial systems, such as the difference between a checking and savings account.
Melissa got her start in primary education in the Chicago Public School system. She then got a background in Business Education after moving to Minnesota, studying how to teach students financial concepts in a way that would stick with them.
Melissa helps one of her personal finance students with an online activity.
"I want my students to make informed decisions," says Melissa. "They need to be able to act independently and accomplish financial goals without relying fully on their parents." Her personal finance classes are offered each year, reaching over 500 students throughout her career.
At the end of the semester, her students create reflection videos. They share what they've learned in the course, as well as review her teaching styles and methods. "I want that immediate feedback," she explains. "I write down recommendations to see what can be changed about the course. There's always room for improvement."
Melissa's curriculum is based on the financial life cycle of the average person. She insists that financial literacy impacts every student's life, and is important to integrate into all levels of education. Her curriculum covers everything from federal and state taxes to the financial intricacies of owning a home. She starts the semester by helping students do their own taxes, completing 1040EZs and 1040As. Melissa also designed units revolving around credit, banking, housing, insurance, and financing higher education.
Students display a banking simulation from Miner’s National Bank, which supports some of their financial curriculum.
Project-based, student-led learning comprises her curriculum. She designed a comprehensive budget project in which each student is assigned a client from a local bank. The students are given a month's worth of expenses and income. They have to take inventory of the clients' assets, calculate monthly costs of living, itemize receipts, and ultimately separate all transactions into budgeting categories. Students then determine the percentages the clients are spending on housing, food, auto payments, etc. and compare these figures to that of the average American.
"It's very challenging for students," explains Melissa. "It's hard for them to conceptualize all the problems that could exist in a situation." While the clients are kept anonymous, they are real life examples of working budgets. For the students, this is a test of critical thinking.
Students create a presentation complete with spreadsheets detailing the state of finances for that month. The larger challenge is forecasting the next month for the client and giving necessary recommendations. "If a client is renting a home with 70% of her budget, she could rent a condo for less. Students have to identify things that can be changed or minimized, from saving, earning and investing," she says. They end the presentation on a five-year plan for the client.
A student works on a project online in Melissa’s Personal Finance course.
Melissa believes in the power of real-world immersion. Most of her material is comprised of real financial documents from clients she has had before, or businesses she works with. "Students can access higher levels of taxonomy this way," she says. "Multiple choice questions don't have a lot of real-world applicability. I like to teach students about technology. Creating pivot tables, understanding data, analyzing and synthesizing." These student-driven simulations are the bulk of her curriculum.
There's work to be done to implement personal finance education nationwide. "Prior to high school, it would be helpful if all states incorporated personal finance standards in various grade levels," suggests Melissa. "First, they'll start learning how to identify and count money. In middle school, they can transition into basic budgeting." She believes that embedding personal finance in math standards by way of technology or computer-based learning is the key to financial literacy. "If our true ambition is to prepare these kids for life after high school, they need all the help they can get."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Melissa Schroeder on her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Eveleth-Gilbert High School.
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