Financial Literacy in the Classroom

Program Teaches Elementary and High Schoolers About Personal Finance

We’ve all said it or thought it at one point or another. For us left-brainers, it was likely while staring at the infamous “x” in a mathematical equation. Or remembering ourselves, sweaty-palmed, trying to conjure up the name of a triangle whose one angle was greater than ninety degrees. When will I ever use this, we thought. When?

Luckily, those word problems and equations became the patchwork of our ability to problem solve, but still, there’s been a deficit according to Beth Huguet, a business teacher at Hellgate High School. Her voice joins a harmony of others who have noticed a lack in understanding of personal finances, something sure to show up in the futures of our children. Five years ago she came together with the Missoula County public schools and wrote a personal finance curriculum. Inspired by the wish to fill a gaping hole in the real-world education of students, their sights are aimed on eventually making personal finance a graduation mandate.

“There are fewer and fewer families sitting around the table and having these discussions,” says Huguet. She was part of a large group in Missoula County who took the initiative to seek resources for financial education. A monthly group meeting became a growing conversation about financial literacy and the way in which it could change the immediate future for students after graduation.

“When we look at our students that are here for four years, within a year or two they’re transitioning out to being on their own and they have no understanding of how to manage or protect their own finances, which is scary.” Her dream, she says, was to not only teach personal finance but offer advanced courses as well.

“They can get an overarching understanding of finance or they can go even further and delineate a specific pathway that they want.”

She stands proudly, gazing up at a chart that illustrates the several paths students can navigate within the financial academy set forth this year. All students who opt into the academy start with personal finance as a foundation class and either branch off into banking, accounting or financial planning for more in-depth knowledge, and also to reinforce the basics learned in the foundation class.

In accompaniment to the personal finance class, students also take part in the 6- to 8-hour computer-generated Financial Foundations/EverFi program sponsored by First Security Bank, encompassing and reiterating the material learned in class through real-world situations.

The program, altered to appeal to younger students, is also in place at Franklin Elementary. Alison Boone, the library media specialist, chose her fourth grade class to be the first participants after being approached about launching the program at Franklin last spring.

“The program is really phenomenal,” says Boone. “It’s designed to give the students these financial skills that will eventually lead them to be savvy money managers.” By way of a gaming format, the program covers complex topics like applying for credit, spending and saving, getting insurance and choosing a career.

“I was really proud of them because I think, if that gave them a leg up…for their future spending and saving, that’s something that’s completely worthwhile,” says Boone.

“At the end [of the program] we had a celebration, which was really touching because students got up and spoke about what the program meant to them and what they think it will mean to their future[s].” The students showed confidence and excitement when they spoke about their futures and they made finances a personal matter. A $200 check was granted to the students who participated in the program by First Security Bank and they’re the ones who will get to decide how it will be handled.

“I really want them to drive the decision making,” says Boone.

Years ago it seemed like taboo to talk with your children about money. That’s changed in recent years, and for good reason. All too often, and by no fault of, parents are forced to work long hours to support their families. By some unfortunate measure financial literacy remained an unspoken reality too late realized for young adults nationwide, until now.

“I think we always have to remember that students are so capable. I think sometimes we think they can’t rise to challenges because of their age or perhaps because of their circumstances but they can and I’m surprised each and every day by my students and what they can accomplish. This was just another example of that,” says Boone.

The financial literacy program at Franklin is set to begin again in the spring with a new crop of students and the academy at Hellgate will journey onward toward the dream for the program to one day be a graduation mandate.