Despite being exposed to financial topics at home or working a part-time job after school, many at-risk students have limited personal finance skills prior to taking any economics-based courses. Branham High School economics teacher, Michael Dopheide, tackles this issue by helping his students learn to live independently and master their finances.
With 17 years of experience as a special education teacher, Michael focuses his teaching efforts on helping at-risk students have the freedom to control their own lives financially. His courses range from economics to health, the highlight course being ‘Living on Your Own.’ In this class, Michael provides both real-life experiences and one-on-one teaching time.
“They are gaining their freedom through the knowledge of managing their money,” says Michael, who noted that his classes make his students more confident with their new finance skills.
In previous years, cooperative learning groups were created with help from his teaching assistant, allowing students to gain more individual attention and improve their learning outcomes. Michael uses the Practical Money Skills curriculum, which gives students a deeper understanding of money management. As an Independent Studies teacher, Michael makes it a priority to meet one-on-one with his students to connect with them on a personal level. “This allows for more opportunity to find out what their plans are for the future,” he said, noting it gives him the ability to tailor his lessons to the class’s specific needs.
Michael meets with his students one-on-one in his Independent Studies class to discuss their financial plans for the future.
Incorporating real-life lessons in his course is essential in covering activities such as saving, learning to fill out financial forms and going on class field trips. An example of one excursion is taking students to local banks to discuss banking basics. The opportunity allows them to get out in the real world and gain some one-on-one time with bankers and become more comfortable talking about financial concepts. Michael believes that these trips help students learn about “creating an account and concepts like compound interest and the Rule of 72, which will help them to be self-sustaining citizens with financial security and independence."
One of the most important lessons that students can learn is to save their money early in life. Michael brings this lesson to light by teaching the “latte factor.” He helps his students calculate how much they could save if they didn’t purchase a daily coffee or snack. This helps them realize that if they save or invest that $2 or $5 dollars at an early age, it will add up to a significant amount of money over time.
Another student activity is learning about taxes and investments. Teaching them how to file taxes and open an IRA can seem complex, but Michael emphasizes the importance of mastering these skills by helping his students become familiar with the paperwork and terminology.
Branham High School’s economics course is not always taught inside the classroom. Moving outside to his class’s student-run garden helps students understand where their food comes from and how to save on grocery expenses. They worked together to clear out a plot of land and grow their own produce. “Students benefit from the garden mainly from seeing something they have planted and tended becoming something beautiful and useful that they can consume themselves, donate to the needy, or even sell at a farmer’s market to earn a living,” he said. This simple garden project also teaches students to save their money and live within a budget, all concepts that will help them beyond their high school career.
During downtime in the classroom, Michael uses Visa’s Financial Football and Financial Soccer games as a reward for students who complete their work early. His students enjoy playing the games and even celebrated Super Bowl LII by playing Eagles vs. Patriots in Financial Football.
The course Michael has conducted has helped his students qualify to compete in the National Consumers League LifeSmarts competition for two years. They have become two-time California State Champions, and his students loved participating in the competition. LifeSmarts, the ultimate consumer challenge, is an educational opportunity for students in 6th-12th grade. This competition prepares students to enter the real world as smart adult consumers.
Overall, Michael believes financial literacy can change students’ lives and ultimately positions them for success in adulthood, advocating for personal finance classes to be required in high schools. He believes that if more at-risk students learned to manage their money and become financially literate, it would help their lives tremendously and help them avoid challenging financial situations. Michael’s work has made a positive impact on helping his students be prepared to live independently and manage their finances.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Michael Dopheide on his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Branham High School.