Driven by her passion for education, Abbie Thill started her teaching career 16 years ago and has taught personal finance to over 700 students. An advocate for learning money management at a young age, Abbie presented the benefits of a required personal finance course to the Cumberland School District last year. "It was essential that personal finance became a requirement. It's so important for our students to learn financial concepts," Abbie explains. The course is now a graduation requirement for juniors at the high school.
Students in Abbie's personal finance class are exposed to a comprehensive curriculum, from the basics of budgeting to more advanced concepts like taxes. She uses a variety of resources in her class, including the online simulation program Banzai, materials from the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), and Practical Money Skills' curriculum. "These resources help bridge the gap between learned concepts and the practice of financial management," says Abbie.
Abbie believes that integrating financial knowledge with realistic situations leads to a more impactful education. In 2011, she created an annual event called Reality Check, an interactive program for students designed to demonstrate the need for money management through a two-hour simulation of real-life financial scenarios. During the event, students select a career, receive a monthly income, pay taxes and create a budget, then visit booths that take them through life purchases based on their individual scenarios. "Students have the opportunity to employ the skills they learned throughout the school year to succeed in real-life situations," Abbie explains. Reality Check also helps students connect with business leaders who volunteer at the event, such as members from four local banks who provide checkbooks and financial advice to participants. Abbie presented the event to the Board of Education, which made Reality Check a graduation requirement at Cumberland High School.
Each semester, Abbie invites speakers to discuss topics covered in class. "My students can greatly benefit from learning from experts in the field," says Abbie. For example, local bankers talk about the importance of good credit and human resource personnel give tips on job interviews, resumes and cover letters. Financial advisors also discuss the importance of stocks and diversification.
According to Abbie, the greatest challenge teaching personal finance to high school students is making sure the material is relevant. "It can be difficult to communicate the importance of money management to students who have limited financial experience," she says. Providing the opportunity to gain financial control in Reality Check and inviting professionals to speak to her classes help demonstrate the value of financial literacy to students. "When students realize how important financial management is for their own futures, they're more interested in the topic."
Abbie's own financial habits parallel the lessons she teaches in the classroom. "I make sure I'm a wise consumer, that I pay myself first and plan for the future and retirement. I make sure I'm a role model for my students," Abbie says. Her passion for financial literacy isn't limited to the high school classroom; she also attends local business meetings to discuss what she teaches and foster relationships with local business members and experts.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Abbie Thill for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Cumberland High School in Cumberland, Wisconsin.