This month, Practical Money Skills is proud to honor Pam Swan of Iowa’s Humboldt High School – a 26-year veteran math teacher and co-creator of the school’s popular Personal Money Management class.
Swan developed the curriculum for Personal Money Management eight years ago in partnership with her colleague Paul Lauger, who teaches the same class to a different group of students. Their goal was to develop a math class that taught students practical financial skills. "As a Math teacher, you can’t always say students will use what they’re learning in your class in their everyday lives. But with this class, you can," Swan says. Beginning with a great idea and no real funding, the two educators started a search for free financial literacy materials on which to base their curriculum. The NEFE curriculum and Practical Money Skills resources delivered just that.
Personal Money Management is focused on teaching financial responsibility and the skills needed to achieve short- and long-term financial goals. Students learn to manage
money effectively by developing spending plans, making informed decisions about incurring and repaying debt, and learning how to build assets. Insurance, identity protection, investing and entrepreneurism are some of the other key topics covered.
The popular Humboldt High class, which serves 60 to 80 students each year, began with NEFE content. However, Swan and Lauger have added several new components to the curriculum over the years. "We have added activities such as filling out a 1040 EZ tax form, working on an investment project, creating a budget on a spreadsheet, and listening to guest speakers. Journaling is also used to review or preview topics," Lauger explains. Journaling consists of students writing in financial journals in response to teacher-provided prompts. They may be asked to define financial concepts or to give examples of their own financial experiences or goals. This is just one of many hands-on activities the teachers have implemented to accompany each unit of the class. Along with an array of guest speakers from the financial and business arenas, thee activities help motivate students to learn and bring abstract financial concepts to life.
The most popular project in Personal Money Management is "life simulation," where students simulate their financial lives as working adults with specific incomes and expenses. Swan explains, "Students research a career and find a starting gross yearly salary. Next they have to figure out their net pay by calculating their deductions." Student loan payments, gas, bills and taxes all figure into the semester-long simulation, which helps students understand the financial consequences of certain choices and teaches them how to better manage their money and avoid financial pitfalls. Lauger and Swan agree that weekly simulation days are their students’ favorite day of class.
When asked about why the course works so well, Swan mentions the class’s diversity. She enjoys working with students who have a wide range of mathematical abilities, in part because the content is valuable to them all. "We try to hit stuff that’s going to be personal," she says. "It’s worthwhile, and students know how practical it is."
Some graduates of the class have taken the initiative to go to a financial planner and invest money outside of school. She adds, "I have had many graduates come back and tell me it was one of the best classes they ever took in high school."
What is the Rule of 72? What are your financial goals? What would you do if Aunt Sally gave you $5,000 today? These are just a few of the questions students answer in their financial journals for the class. That is just one innovative way these dedicated educators get students to consider the importance of lifelong financial health – and give them the skills they need to achieve it.