Joy Munsey began teaching personal finance and economics at Holston High School in Damascus, VA when it became a statewide graduation requirement in fall 2011. (Virginia is one of four states in the U.S. that requires at least a one-semester course devoted to personal finance.) Now in her fourth year teaching personal finance and economics – and her 19th year as a teacher – Joy has reached about 125 students in her personal finance classes.
Two years ago, she learned about Working in Support of Education (W!SE), a nonprofit organization based in New York City that supports financial literacy education. Its programs give high school students the opportunity to become certified financially literate if they pass the Financial Literacy Certification (CFL) Test, a timed multiple-choice assessment. Joy had to take a teacher version of the same test to join the institute and was the first teacher in the county to administer the CFL test to her students, who had a 98% pass rate in 2012, its first year. In 2013, her pass rate increased to 100%.
"The [CFL] test is practical, heavy on personal finance and correlates with state standards," says Joy. "It gives me a better assessment of what I'm doing in the classroom and whether I'm getting through to my students." When students pass the CFL Test, they receive a verified credit in personal finance, which is as an extra achievement not required by the state.
Another opportunity Joy gives her students is earning a financial literacy certification from EverFi's program, "My Money, My Future." Students complete nine online modules that cover topics like banking and investing and take a post-assessment, which they must pass with 70 percent or higher. "Both the W!SE and EverFi certifications provide students with a sense of accomplishment and impressive achievements they can use on resumes and job applications," says Joy.
Not only have Joy's students benefited from her personal finance courses, but her school has received recognition as well. In both 2012 and 2013, Holston High School was named a Blue Star School, which is W!SE's highest form of acknowledgment for outstanding financial literacy education. Holston High School was also ranked 13th in the Best W!SE High Schools teaching personal finance in 2013.
Joy utilizes a variety of creative means to deliver personal finance concepts to her students. Because she has full-time access to a computer lab, she implements many online resources like loan calculators and a simulation software program called "On Your Own Coast-to-Coast," during which students must face real life choices and challenges of living on their own. Joy also implements hands-on activities such as group exercises and role-playing, particularly to demonstrate how a loan or deposit can affect the economy. She uses resources from the Federal Reserve banks, National Council on Economic Education, which provides over 1,000 lessons, and Practical Money Skills – to name a few.
Banking, saving, credit, insurance and general financial management are hot topics in Joy's class because, as she says, "each one is a part of everyday living. We have to pay bills, buy groceries and live within our means. Trigonometry may be useful for a specific occupation, but no matter what you do in life, you have to know how to manage your money."
Her unwavering belief in the importance of financial literacy fuels her passion for teaching – so much so that it continues after school is out of session. For the past two summers, Joy has led a workshop for personal finance teachers in the district to share lesson plans, resources and ideas. "I've attended many workshops and conferences in the past few years. If I come back with just one new idea, it's worthwhile because I can pass it along to my colleagues." The first year that Virginia implemented the personal finance graduation requirement, Joy was elected to lead the workshop; now, she willingly volunteers.
"I hope my students are wiser, more informed consumers after taking my class," says Joy, noting that she likes seeing her students understand the importance of money management. "I want them to be smarter about their choices and aware of their options when it comes to finances." In her own life, she's dealt with challenges that greatly affected her finances. She shares her personal mistakes and lessons learned with her students to emphasize the real impact that financial management has. "I wish I had known in my 20s what I know now in my 40s. I wish I had been smarter and better informed earlier in my life, but that is what I'm trying to do now – be smarter with my personal finance decisions and try to pass that on to my own children and my students."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Joy Munsey for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Holston High School.