Walking down the hallways of Indiana's Mount Vernon High School, business education teacher of 33 years, Jim Hatfield, is often met with the greeting, "Are you paying yourself first, Mr. Hatfield?"
The passionate educator, who started his career over three decades ago at the same school, teaches Personal Financial Responsibility. The mottos he instills in his students are "pay yourself first" and "save for the future." So instead of a casual greeting of "hello," the mantra that echoes down the halls of the Mount Vernon, Indiana school is one reminding kids to put money aside and to pay themselves first.
To engage teens in learning the sometimes dry topic of financial literacy, Hatfield starts by teaching the basics of setting financial goals, budgeting, banking, investing, managing credit, and financing a college education to name a few. Topics often come with a guest speaker from the community, such as a representative from a banks' auto loan department or financial aid officers from local universities. "I try to give kids skills at a young age so they can get ahead financially and not fall into a debt trap," says Hatfield, who was honored this past April for his financial literacy efforts as 2012 Educator of the Year by the Indiana JumpStart Coalition in collaboration with the Indiana Department of Education, for which he credits his school's administration which supports the elective course.
One of the most popular lessons in the investing segment of the course Hatfield teaches spurs the often repeated question on the first day of class: "When are we going to do the home walkthrough?" The walkthrough is a crash course in buying a home, for which he takes his class off campus to view a home for sale in a nearby neighborhood. They are greeted by guest speakers, including a local banker, realtor and home inspector; each of whom walk the students through their role in the home buying process. After learning from each speaker about what's involved in the process, including getting pre-approved for a mortgage loan, the teens head back to class to prepare an offer to purchase on the home. "It overwhelms them," said Hatfield, but it continues to be a popular lesson each year for the approximately 100 juniors and seniors who take his course.
One of the biggest changes Hatfield has experienced along with his students over the years is the introduction of new technology. "No doubt technology has come into play in each classroom. It gives students and teachers access to resources that textbooks just can't provide."
Utilizing financial calculators, tutorials and games on computers and iPads makes his course more appealing to the young audience. His priority is to give them the tools and the knowledge they need to find resources for future life events like buying a car, or applying for a student or home loan.
"It's been a challenge to really make financial literacy a priority over the years, from the standpoint that it is an elective and not a required course," he noted. "It's a passion of mine to teach financial literacy. About how to manage your money, invest your money and stay out of debt."
One financial services guest speaker, Kim Brown, who works as a non-profit credit counselor, gives a credit score and credit report presentation to Hatfield's students each year. "Jim's very passionate about personal finances and improving the lives of young people," Brown says.
When asked what he considers a success story, Hatfield points to students who come back to campus and tell him they have graduated from college or are in their first job and are "paying themselves first"– putting money aside for an emergency fund. Another returning recent grad told him she took the lessons she learned about completing her tax returns online on the IRS website, and turned around and taught her mother how to file her tax returns without the assistance of a paid tax consultant.
"We teach them how to fill the forms out by hand and submit them online, and it feels good to know they are able to pass that education on to their parents in this situation," said Hatfield.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Jim Hatfield for his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Mount Vernon High School in Indiana.