Kelleen Weatherman was almost done with her business degree when she began to take an interest in teaching. But she decided to join the corporate world – while coaching the local Special Olympics Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding team for 10 years – and put her career as an educator on hold until her youngest son became a senior in high school. At that time, Kelleen contacted Colville High School in Washington state and accepted the position to take over the Consumer Education/Personal Finance course, which is a graduation requirement for seniors. Students who pass the class with an 80 percent or better can earn three college credits in Money Management. For the past eight years, she has prepared nearly 1,000 seniors for their post-graduation lives in her Consumer Education/Personal Finance class through integrating innovative programs and activities into her classroom curriculum.
When she took over the consumer and finance course, Kelleen was inspired to incorporate her own ideas into the curriculum. Striving to create a course that would prepare students for living independently, Kelleen integrates real life experiences and activities into her classroom. For example, students prepare a "High School and Beyond Plan," a state-mandated graduation requirement that encourages them to research potential careers, college expenses, living costs and financial aid. She also trains students to fill out employment documents, create resumes and cover letters and participate in mock interviews. Many seniors have been hired directly from this project. Students also learn about W-4's, paycheck deductions and taxes.
In November, Colville High School will partner with the Washington State Employment and Credit Union to develop its first Financial Reality Fair. Each participating senior is given a packet with details about an entry level career, corresponding salary, payroll deductions and a student loan payment. Students then visit "vendors" – members of the community playing along – to make financial decisions about transportation, housing, insurance and more. These vendors try to "upsell" them to reflect a more realistic situation. This simulation enables students to make decisions involving fixed and variable expenses, credit card use and loans, and understand the numbers associated with their decisions at the end of the fair. If the activity is successful, Kelleen plans to integrate the program again in the spring.
Kelleen strives for her students to learn the value of the dollar and how to get the most from that dollar. She wants her students to be aware of the tools available to help them manage their finances, and ultimately know that they have control over their financial well being.
One of the greatest challenges Kelleen faces as a high school personal finance educator is incorporating up-to-date, relevant information that engages students in an environment where they learn by doing. "Living in a rural, resource-based community with limited economic opportunities for employment creates the need for the experiences even more," she says.
In her own life, Kelleen practices the lessons she teaches in the classroom. She has been saving from an early age in an IRA, takes full advantage of her employer matched 401k and a 403b to capitalize on tax advantages while planning for her retirement. She also uses credit wisely through making timely payments.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Kelleen Weatherman for her ongoing commitment to financial literacy at Colville High School in Colville, Washington.