Vernon Township High School educator Kathie Belli has been teaching K-12 for 32 years. Most recently, she started teaching a Business and Personal Financial Literacy class at the high school in Glenwood, New Jersey. Over the past three years, Kathie has reached over 360 high school students ranging in experience levels in her semester-long course. Kathie takes an innovative approach to the financial literacy curriculum by integrating various teaching methods that engage students in a meaningful and effective way.
In New Jersey, a financial, economic or entrepreneurial literacy course is required for high school graduation. New Jersey's revised 21st-Century Life and Careers standards include Standard 9.2, which is aligned to the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy's National Standards in K-12 Personal Finance Education to ensure that students demonstrate an understanding about how the economy works and develop skills to manage personal finances by the time they graduate.
Veering away from the traditional lecture module, Kathie opts for a more personal and hands-on approach. Her classroom is equipped with computers for each student, making online activities and blended, project-based learning a key element of her teaching. "Today, kids need more gamification, excitement, and a little bit more reality," says Kathie. Students in her class learn though TED Talks, guest speakers, free online resources provided by Money Talk 4 Teens and New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) Reality Check, YouTube videos, and other resources.
"Students access the NJDOE site, where they complete a Reality Check based on their choice of what type of housing they want to have, what kind of car they want to drive, where they plan to live, etc. Based on their career choice, students are able to quickly see if their choices are realistic. They can tweak their choices or explore other careers on this site as well," explains Kathie.
Students are given the opportunity to present their knowledge with new technologies such as Prezi presentations, interactive posters with Glogster and augmented reality projects with Aurasma.
Her course highlights important life events and financial hurdles that students will likely face in the coming years after they graduate. For example, students research the costs of attending a community college, a four-year public and private college or university, and a technical school. By comparing the different university choice available, students learn how their career choice affects lifelong earnings. They also learn about Perkins loans, Stafford subsidized and unsubsidized loans, scholarships, grants and other methods to save and pay for their education. Students also fill out important forms such as Employment Eligibility Verification, W-4 forms, working papers, and employment applications. The majority of students have "no idea about these resources. It's a huge reality check. The kids realize that this is real, that they'll be applying to colleges," says Kathie.
To aid her lessons, Kathie uses the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy's 12 Principles Calendar and Practical Money Skills resources such as Financial Soccer and Financial Football. "I use these games in my class as a reward for completing assignments," explains Kathie. "They also reinforce concepts taught in my class, and the gaming aspect is very engaging for the students, who actually compete against each other. Their enthusiasm is contagious."
Kathie stresses the importance of financial literacy education in high schools, saying, "financial literacy should be required in every school in America. I believe that it is never too early to begin teaching the benefits of financial literacy, maybe even in pre-school, where children get a piggy bank to save change."
Kathie brings the success of her classroom teachings outside of the classroom by acting as the liaison for a community-based organization Vernon Rotary. The organization conducted a two-year project where students were paired together and shopped at a local Wal-Mart to donate clothing to middle school students using budgetary concepts learned in Financial Literacy classes.
An active participant in her community, Kathie shares and collaborates with teachers and organizations and attends conferences to learn about innovative teaching methods. "Since I live in a rural area, I use social media as my professional learning community," she says. Online resources are a crucial element of her financial literacy course, as students can access materials they may have never had exposure to otherwise. Kathie also served on the New Jersey Department of Education Career Readiness Practices Consortium, where she helped create lessons for New Jersey educators to access for their classes.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Kathie Belli for her ongoing commitment to financial literacy at Vernon Township High School in Glenwood, New Jersey.