After teaching economics to high school students for 14 years, James Redelsheimer has learned a thing or two about making personal finance more interesting to his teen audience in one of the largest school districts in Minnesota.
"They don't want to sit in class and hear me talk to them for 50 minutes. I try to make it interactive to get the kids thinking about solving problems and getting them involved with mentors," said Redelsheimer, a high school economics teacher at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth, MN, as well as a Master Teacher for the Minnesota Council on Economic Education. The organization honored him with the 2011 Economic Educator Excellence Award.
Mentoring students with financial professionals in the community is a key component of Redelsheimer's curriculum. He is a board member for BestPrep which offers financial education programs such as eMentors and has reached more than 1.3 million students since 1976. Each week, his students receive an email from their eMentor and they discuss personal finance and career skills. At the end of each quarter, the students take a field trip to meet their mentors in person at a celebratory luncheon at a local financial services company.
Another class project Redelsheimer utilizes to make the financial literacy element of his economic classes more relevant and engaging for his students is a budget project. He instructs them to create a monthly budget based on a randomly selected employment scenario. "They roll the dice to see what their profession will be – it can be everything from a college grad who was an engineering major to a high school dropout who entered the workforce. They are given a set number for their entire budget and their interest rate is based on their GPA," he said, noting students need to track expenses including money for rent, food, transportation and insurance. When the semester long project is complete, students are tasked with developing a presentation reflecting on their budget and financial challenges. The exercise has been popular with students' parents who have asked for copies of the project for their other kids to show the importance of financial literacy.
"The reaction from most students is "Wow, I have a lot of respect how difficult it is to be an adult.' They realize that money management is important and money doesn't grow on trees," he said. "I try to get them interested in savings and explain how if they saved 10 percent of their salary, how that money can grow in the years to come."
To prepare students for the budget project, Redelsheimer has them compare the financial situation of two families – one family makes more money while saving very little, while the other family has a lower income but has a much higher savings rate. "Assuming the savings are invested, I have students research how each families net worth play out over a lifetime," he said. "Students can clearly see the incentives for saving and investing as the family with the lower income, but higher savings rate has more than double the net worth and income of the higher earning, albeit low saving family. I incorporate this learning into the budget activity where students are able to choose their own savings rates and are able see the how the incentives for saving increase their net worth with time and interest."
Interactive activities that are popular with his students includes The Stock Market Game which students can play on their personal laptops provided by the school. "I have run into graduates how have said, 'Hey Mr. Red, I have opened a Roth IRA. How are your stocks doing?'" which indicates the classroom experience has made an impact in their savings and investment habits after they left high school.
In 2015, Redelsheimer was approached by Barron's to co-author Barron's AP Microeconomics/Macroeconomics, 5th Edition. "I worked with a professor in New York to basically put my classroom curriculum in words," he said of the book which students use in his AP classes to learn about the economic way of thinking and other concepts that provide a foundation for making sound financial decisions.
Looking at himself through his the eyes of the 3,500 students he has taught over the years, Redelsheimer said, "I would hope that they think I am trying to make their lives better. I am really passionate about personal finance and it is exciting to see the kids learn."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend James Redelsheimer for his ongoing commitment to financial literacy at the Robbinsdale Armstrong High School
In Plymouth, MN.