When Jody Sandru left her job in the credit lending industry and moved to the small town of Twin Bridges, Montana, she was dismayed by the lack of financial knowledge among youth. Her opportunity to make a change came when Jody was offered a position as the Accounting educator at Twin Bridges High School. She has been teaching there for the past 21 years.
As a seventh through 12th grade teacher, Jody faces the challenges of teaching in such a small town, one being the lack of resources. After the Family Consumer Program budget at her school was severely cut, Jody assumed the responsibility of ensuring her students graduated with a solid understanding of financial concepts. Each year, she teaches about 100 students and many of them choose to take her elective Accounting course because of her positive, energetic approach to the course.
Financial literacy takes a front seat in Jody's Accounting class. Specifically, her lessons focus on financial planning, budgeting, investment strategies, credit and saving because, "these are skills that will guide them to success in the 21st century," she explains. Because her students range in age from 12-18, she adjusts her lessons accordingly. For example, she teaches freshmen how to plan financially for college. They research career requirements and college costs and interview professionals in the fields of their choice. With seniors, she focuses on credit score basics. "Some seniors come into my class in October, disappointed with their ACT scores. But I tell them their credit scores are more important because they will follow them wherever they go," she says.
Many of her lessons are project-based assignments designed to keep students engaged. Jody creates an interactive 'edutainment' environment with both traditional and innovative games; for example, she created 'Folf,' a combination of finance and golf, during which students progress through a course by taking a quiz at various stations. Jody's inspiration for this game came from the idea that many business deals are negotiated on the golf course.
Her students also participate in the Montana Business Challenge, an eight-week simulation sponsored by the Montana Council on Economic Education in which teams of three students manage a blue-ray video player manufacturing company and make fiscal decisions every week. Jody says, "I always try to tell real-life stories that bring the concepts to life." For example, students create simple animated stories using a program called Scratch, produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to bring financial concepts to life. The animations are also used to help teach younger students. "If you teach someone else how to do something, you learn better," says Jody. "You can't just write something on the board anymore."
Learning about financial literacy is not just delegated to Jody's Accounting students. To educate the entire student body, Jody's students create public service announcements (PSAs) and commercials about financial topics like saving, credit reports and cell phone plans. These are then shared on the first day of school. In May of 2010, local television station Max Media in Bozeman, Montana sponsored a contest for student-created commercials and Jody's students' work won several awards.
Jody values free online resources like videos, podcasts, presentations, blogs and educational websites, particularly because her small town doesn't offer many readily available resources. "The cloud is like a treasure chest for me. The applications and free software continue to grow and it is exciting to be teaching with all these new resources that help my students become responsible digital citizens in the media-rich world." She also utilizes social media like Twitter and Pinterest, as well as games like Practical Money Skills' Financial Football.
As one of the six Practical Money Skills sponsored educators that attended the Jump$tart Coalition National Educator Conference in Washington, DC, Jody realizes the need for national awareness of financial literacy. At the conference, she networked with other finance educators and returned to Twin Bridges with "a suitcase full of new ideas." She hopes that one day, financial literacy will be a required course in every state because she believes it's one of the most crucial life skills.
Keeping track of finances and saving were ingrained in Jody from an early age, when her father set up a savings plan for her when she was just three years old. She is married to a rancher, which encompasses a lifestyle that is not always financially stable, thus requiring constant careful planning and budgeting. "I live it. I don't just say it," she says.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Jody Sandru for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Twin Bridges High School.