After 23 years of teaching computer programming and word processing, Patty Denton made the switch to economics and personal finance after personal finance became a graduation requirement in Virginia. Patty initiated the pilot program for grades nine through 12 at Abingdon High School in Abingdon, Virginia, which included developing curriculum – a difficult feat as a teacher new to the subject. Shortly after she began teaching the course to 9-12th graders, it became a high school requirement in Virginia.
Patty utilizes a variety of resources including online simulations, games, reality TV show clips, textbooks and visits from business professionals to teach 130-150 students per year. "Through trial and error, I've learned that students understand concepts more clearly with hands-on activities," says Patty. One unique interactive project she implements in her classroom is "Business in a Box." Students visit local stores to learn about the different types of businesses such as sole proprietorships, corporations and partnerships. They then create a new business of their own. They locate empty storefronts and budget for rental costs, create a logo, slogan and TV commercial and develop a plan for branding to guarantee customer loyalty. By the end of the project, students have a better understanding of the financial requirements for building a business.
Another project is the Thanksgiving and Easter dinner preparation project, which teaches students about the importance of budgeting. During this activity, students are given a budget of $350 to spend on a holiday dinner party. They must make a list of all items they will need, including ingredients for recipes they choose and decorations. Armed with coupons cut from the Sunday newspaper and an Excel sheet, students head to the grocery store to determine the actual prices of the items and calculate the grand total. The student who purchases the most for the least amount of money receives a grocery store gift card. "Students learn to maximize their buying power by keeping a budget, clipping coupons, and comparing prices."
Field trips are a large part of Patty's lessons. In addition to visiting businesses for the Business in a Box project, she also takes her students to a car dealership. Prior to the trip, she will give them a salary and explain that their car payments cannot exceed 15% of their salary. A car dealer shows the students the different types of cars each can afford based on their salaries. "The boys want big expensive race cars, but if they don't have a salary that supports that, they can't have it," Patty explains. "Their mouths fall open and they understand what I'm talking about. It's a big reality check."
Because of her courses, Patty's students have "started paying attention to what's going on around them. They've learned how to get the most for their money by figuring discounts and finding the best deal. Patty says that the only challenge to teaching personal finance to high school students is the lack of time she has with them. "I wish I had them for longer periods and could go more in-depth with the concepts to make them really understand."
Patty hopes that her lessons will teach students to become "extremely smart, savvy shoppers and savers who are conscious of what they're doing." She has a sign in her classroom that reads â€˜Money = Freedom' to remind students that the better they handle their money, the more freedom they will have to do what they want. "It's about choices. Do they want to buy a coke every day from a fast food restaurant, or put that money in a savings account? Small amounts of money add up over time."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Patty Denton for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Abingdon High School in Virginia.