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When he was 9 years old, Alec Greven published “How to Talk to Girls,” a book that has since been translated into multiple languages, earned him a visit to the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and generated a yearly income for him since its 2008 debut.
But Greven, who graduated in May from Castle View High School in Castle Rock, doesn’t know how to fill out the tax form that applies to his earnings.
“You didn’t leave knowing the basics,” said Greven, who will attend the University of Richmond in Virginia on a full-ride scholarship. Students “need to be confident and competent when it comes to personal finance.”
Steven Peck, a member of the Douglas County School District Board of Education, couldn’t agree more and is exploring ideas of how to incorporate financial literacy into the curriculum for all students in Douglas County.
In 2012, nearly 30,000 15-year-olds from 18 countries took part in the first large-scale international assessment of young people’s financial literacy, the Programme for International Student Assessment. More than one in six students in the United States failed to reach the baseline level of proficiency in financial literacy. Overall, American students fall in the middle of the pack globally, performing on average just behind Latvia and just ahead of Russia.
According to a 2016 survey from the Council for Economic Education, which focuses on the economic and financial education of students from kindergarten through high school across the United States, only 17 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance. Colorado is not one of these states.
“It seems like a lot of the time, the more obvious things are overlooked,” Peck said. “My dad had given me books on saving for the future and compound interest, how debt can work for you or against you, but not everyone has that.”
Idea gains traction
According to a 2016community survey of students, parents and teachers, 41 percent of seniors “strongly agree” they feel ready for the next phase of life and 60 percent of seniors “strongly agree” they have a plan to achieve their goals after graduation.
But may studentsalso indicated in their responses they did not feel prepared for the next phase in life, saying they wished their schools had taught them more basic life skills. The board highlighted this as an area of concern.
And almost 70 percent of students said they want to be involved in helping design what they learn in class.
“It seems that the first thing we need to explore and understand is what is currently offered, in what format, what is covered, and how many students are participating in current financial literacy programs,” board member Judith Reynolds said. “Students have certainly expressed an interest in leaving high school with a greater understanding of the real-world fiscal day-to-day dealings they will have once they are adults.”
Board of education President Meghann Silverthorn said she loves the idea.
“I became aware of exactly how interested our students are when I spoke to the Student Advisory Group right before the community survey results were released,” Silverthorn said. “They were enthusiastic proponents of a class that focuses on life skills and financial literacy, noting that even the most academically gifted among them were unsure about things like mortgages and tax forms.”
The Student Advisory Group is made up of student leaders from each of the Douglas County High Schools and is tasked with communicating student needs and opinions to the board of education and district staff.
Silverthorn said students were even apprehensive that a homeroom or advisement-based seminar would not be enough and told her they were interested in semester or year-long courses.
Greven, who was president of the advisory group said he supports the idea to add more financial literacy to the high school curriculum.
He took economics classes, but doesn’t feel like he was taught things like checking, how to pay taxes or take out a loan and mortgage.
Still, Greven said he has concerns about adding an extra graduation requirement and an additional course load on students. Making the class an elective that students can choose to take might be a better approach, he suggested.
Several board members also are unsure about making financial literacy a graduation requirement.
Board member Wendy Vogel said she specifically asked the Student Advisory Group whether it should be required for graduation.
“Their response was ‘not at this time,’ “ Vogel said. “They thought that the class ought to be developed and tried before requiring it of all students to complete before graduation.”
A matter of money
Board member David Ray agrees with Peck’s passion for wanting high school students to graduate with life skills and financial literacy, but believes many of those skills are already incorporated into curriculum.
“However, if one looks at our academic standards, integrating financial literacy throughout all the gradesalready exists,” Ray said. “For example, in high school social studies-economics, students are to `analyze strategic spending, saving and investment options to achieve the objectives of diversification, liquidity, income and growth.’ Sixth-graders explore how `saving and investing are key contributors to financial well-being.’ Even in first grade, students are expected to `identify short-term financial goals.’ ”
Financial literacy was added to the Colorado academic standard for math in 2008, Douglas County Assistant Superintendent Ted Knight said.
“For the most part, it’s integrated into math,” he said, “but with 70 different schools, we have schools that each do it a little differently.”
The school board does have the option to adopt graduation requirements that are stricter than state requirements, Knight said, but in tight budget times finding money to pay for teachers for those classes would be a roadblock. Organizationally, deciding how to implement it also would be a challenge.
“We would have to figure out where these teachers who would teach the classes are going to live,” Knight said. “Will they live in the math department? Will schools need more money? There’s a lot of minutiae that would be needed to get this up and rolling if the board would want to.”
Silverthorn said she and Peck will bring a proposal to the board to ask interim Superintendent Erin Kane for information about current offerings, how standards are being implemented and what would be needed to offer the class and make it a graduation requirement.
Peck acknowledges implementing such a change in the curriculum would cost money and come with tradeoffs.
“If I had it my way, I’d like to see us hire another 20 to 25 teachers that have specific training in finance and economics,” said Peck, adding he is also interested in exploring community partnerships to help students. “I know for a fact that there are professionals that would love to come in and teach individual classes or mentor people who are interested.”
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