In LeNora Weaver's Money Management and Life Skills classes at McLain High School in Lakewood, Colorado, she goes above and beyond to make learning life and personal finance skills a hands-on experience for her students. Turning exercises into preparation for life after high school is what she finds most rewarding about teaching the classes. At the alternative school, where most students are considered high risk, the lessons "go beyond teaching how to rent an apartment or buy a car–they reinforce the idea of making responsible life decisions," she says.
Weaver's classes include apartment renting, car buying and other financial simulations that allow students to make their own decisions and feel in charge of their own financial destinies. The first step is for them to examine their own finances and spending. At the start of the class, Weaver gives each student a baggie and post-its and asks them to record and collect every purchase they make. At the end of three weeks, students itemize their expenses and add their incomes. Adding up the costs of their purchases over time is eye-opening. As part of the lesson, Weaver emphasizes the true cost of expenditures: a movie often includes transportation and snack expenses in addition to the ticket cost, for example. Developing a personal budget is the starting point of her classes and a central theme connecting the many course activities.
One of the core exercises in Weaver's classes focuses on renting an apartment. In order to engage students in learning about the responsibilities and costs involved, she has them review sample leases and travel to an apartment complex to meet with a building manager. The manager explains how she screens potential renters and describes the reasons for–and the process related to–evictions. "With each class I've taken to the complex, they are shy at first and then they ask some really, really good questions," Weaver says.
Students in her class also learn about tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities, in part utilizing the Renter's Rights information on the Practical Money Skills website. They examine hypothetical disputes between landlords and tenants, identify resolutions and determine which party they think would win if the case were taken to court. Students also compare open apartments and interview a friend or family member about his or her specific experience renting housing.
Likewise, to teach students about the car buying process, Weaver requires them to compare cars they want and calculate taxes and payments–including interest rates based on a bad or good credit score, their available down payment and more. "It's a huge A-ha moment when they see how much cars really cost," she says. This exercise leads into a unit on credit scores–what they are, how they impact students' finances, how to build credit and how to raise a low credit score. Saving, setting short- and long-term goals and taxes are topics covered in the longer of her two courses.
Weaver's personal experience as a parent contributed to her interest in teaching personal finance. She found her son struggling with debt in his late teen years, despite her having taught him the importance of saving, budgeting and using credit responsibly. "Kids need the information," she says, "so even if they get into financial trouble, they know how to fix it." She notes that many of her students lack some of the role modeling many kids receive, making the information all the more valuable. "A lot of my students don't have experience in the basics and they will be on their own from the moment they graduate," she says. Her goal is to make the transition easier.
In Colorado, personal finance instruction is not currently a requirement for graduation. However, Weaver notes that more and more high schools are implementing financial education programs. Although her Life Skills and Money Management classes are elective, they have remained full in the four years she has been teaching them. "It's not hard to get students to sign up at all. Our students come from all types of situations and see the usefulness." The benefits are clear to her and to students. "It surprises me how many students come back to thank me. As a math teacher the rest of the time, it's nice to teach a class that is immediately acknowledged as useful."
Practical Money Skills commends LeNora Weaver for her commitment to financial education in the Lakewood, Colorado area.