Deb Dakken has transformed Family and Consumer Sciences at Northwood Kensett Community School in Northwood, Iowa from an unpopular elective to a course students line up to take. As a result of her dedication and fresh approach to teaching Life Skills since 1990, hundreds of 11th and 12th graders have learned the importance of making sound financial choices, and have acquired tools that are critical to their future careers, financial independence and life success.
"Did you know 95% of adults are single at some point in their lives?" That’s the introductory question to Deb’s Dakken’s class, Single Survival. The second is "Do you really want to rely on someone else to take care of you?" For most students, the answer is "no" and their interest in "Single Survival" has been ignited.
A Family and Consumer Sciences teacher with 28 years of experience, Deb was always passionate about making life skills a lively, engaging subject. She knew she wanted to be a teacher from a very young age, and sitting in her Home Economics class in 9th grade, she realized she’d happened upon the subject she wanted to teach. She also knew that the subject she’d chosen had the potential to be boring, so she renamed her course and stepped away from textbooks to better engage her students. With this, Single Survival was born and Deb’s search through bank, state and scores of other websites to find fresh financial literacy materials began.
Today, the one-semester course exceeds state standards in Iowa and boasts countless interactive games and activities, plus a waiting list of students Deb works hard to include. "The only frustrations I have are that there is never enough time to cover everything I want to and that it has become so popular, I don't have enough chairs for all of those who sign up for it." Students in Single Survival research and plan for their careers, develop a portfolio, hone their interview skills and calculate their potential earnings. They also develop personal spending plans, learn the advantages and disadvantages of credit and adopt techniques for protecting their identities. Deb pools course materials from many resources, including her local bank, the University of Arizona’s Family Economics and Financial Education (FEFE) website, Jump$tart and Practical Money Skills.
One of the most popular Single Survival activities Deb teaches requires students to interview a family member about precautions they take to protect themselves from identity theft. "You teach because you’ve been taught," she says. That’s why students enjoy this activity & because they can use information they’ve learned themselves to teach a family member something of value. Parents have approached her at school games to comment that they learned something new from the interview exercise themselves. As Deb says, "What more can you ask for than the student becoming the teacher?"
As part of a career preparedness unit, students collaborate in small groups to create balloon towers. Some team members have both hands tied behind their backs to represent limited skills and education, while others have limited or full use of their hands to represent higher levels of education. Students soon recognize that those students with limited education and skills aren’t able to build the structure as easily as their peers because they lack the tools. It’s a fun, active aspect of a critical lesson, and it easily demonstrates the doors education can open.
The majority of Deb’s Single Survival activities are interactive, including Practical Money Skills’ Financial Football educational video game and Deb’s very own financial trivia Twister. These games bring students into the classroom enthusiastic to challenge each other. They also get more students excited about taking the course. When Deb hears students talking about concepts learned during her class at lunch, she is reminded how she’s reached them. The activities, paired with the benefit of having the tools to succeed in life, are reasons she thinks the class has gained such popularity. "Being excited about learning is a huge benefit to them and to me," she says.
If there is one thing Deb wishes, it is that life skills classes were deemed as vital as courses in Math, Science and English/Language Arts. As she explains to students about her course content, "This is going to affect you, your future and your relationships." What could have a bigger impact on students’ abilities to succeed than gaining the tools they need to be well employed and financially independent? This is the driving force behind Deb’s efforts and the reason she has dedicated so much of her life to ensuring the program holds great appeal for students. It’s also the reason for its continued impact and great success.
Practical Money Skills commends Deb Dakken and Northwood Kensett Community School for their ongoing contributions to financial literacy and dedication to their community.