Allison Raymond took an unusual path to her position as a middle school math teacher in Washington, DC, After her mother passed away, Allison pursued her dream of studying abroad and worked various internships in Venezuela, Greece and Spain, earning degrees from George Washington University, Georgetown and Harvard. She put her education and experience to use as a school principal at an American school in Mexico and continued to live abroad and teach for 20 years. Allison speaks Spanish, French, and Italian fluently and is a strong advocate for diversity and international inclusion.
For the past five years, however, Allison has been teaching math and personal finance to middle school students in 6th-8th grade at the Sheridan School, a private K-8th progressive school in Washington, DC. The 250 students who attend the school come from countries as far away as Mauritius and India. Diversity at the school extends well beyond nationality. There are students with two fathers, for example, as well as transgender students. The open environment challenges students to look beyond the traditional four-person, nuclear family and opens up different conversations and life lessons. Allison has incorporated these nontraditional scenarios into her personal finance lessons.
"There's a lot of self-advocating here," says Allison. "Students learn to speak up for themselves and express their interests. Teachers can write curriculum according to the needs of the students. We have standards but can interpret them creatively."
Allison introduced personal finance into the classroom five years ago when she realized that, despite using a well-known curriculum, her students could not understand math concepts like percentages and decimals. She needed to give real-life examples of these applications and began incorporating financial examples such as banking, budgeting, compound interest and investing.
Several components make up Allison's personal finance teachings. One project entitled, "Money, Money, Money" encourages students to create non-traditional families of 2-4 people (e.g., single parent, living with grandparents, single vs. two incomes, etc.). They must research different careers and salaries such as architect, dental technician or even financial advisor. They then create a life worksheet and budget that includes mortgage, food, clothing, entertainment, gas, private school tuition and other real life costs.
Allison uses a number of tools to help the students understand saving, spending and debt. She uses Oprah's "Debt Diet" pie chart to give students an understanding of what percentage of income should be allocated to rent, savings, transportation, etc. This exercise forces kids to think about "the big picture" and where all their money is distributed.
Much of her curriculum is built around topics her students do not understand or want to learn more about in class. They learn about the stock market and diversification by using Investopedia. Students also love WolframAlpha, a site that offers statistical analysis. "I need to incorporate technology because they have fun with it and learn a lot," says Allison. "Financial terms and concepts come from these games. They don't learn as much if I just stand up and talk." Every class has computers and her 8th graders are assigned iPod Touches.
For professional development, Allison attends conferences such as the National Council on Mathematics. She visits local schools to observe other teachers and classrooms. Sheridan also hires an outside consultant who helps teachers design customized curriculums.
Allison encourages teachers to listen to their students' interests, research online resources, and be creative. One of her goals is to help students understand and appreciate the value of money. "They realize that maintaining the financial health of a family takes a lot of work."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Allison Raymond for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Sheridan School.