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Speaking of the Economy
Speaking of the Economy - Will Chappell and Sarah Ostergaard
Speaking of the Economy

April 21, 2021

Financial Literacy: Preparing Students for the Future

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For Financial Literacy Month, two teachers in South Carolina discuss how they help high school students learn about economics and personal finance. Will Chappell is from Early College High School in Conway and Sarah Ostergaard teaches at Irmo High School in Columbia. They belong to the Teacher Collaborative Committee, which supports the Richmond Fed's development and delivery of economic and financial education resources and programs.

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Yolanda Ferguson: My name is Yolanda Ferguson and I am an economic education specialist in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. We work with teachers, students, and the public to enhance understanding of economics, personal finance, and the Federal Reserve.

April is Financial Literacy Month, so we'll be hearing from two teachers in South Carolina about what they are doing to help students learn more about economics and personal finance. With me are William Chappell from Early College High School in Conway and Sarah Ostergaard of Irmo High School in Columbia. They both belong to our Teacher Collaborative Committee, which supports the Bank's development and delivery of economic and financial education resources and programs.

Thanks for being here, Will and Sarah.

Will Chappell: It's great to be here.

Sarah Ostergaard: Thank you for inviting us.

Ferguson: Let's start with the basics about financial literacy. The topic has gotten its own month for over 20 years, so why is it so important?

Chappell: Financial literacy is essential for success as an adult. These skills are often overlooked in our education system because it is something we simply assume people will learn later and learn on their own. Unfortunately that never happens for many people, so they continue to make the same financial decisions as their parents without fully understanding the consequences of their actions, and they don't make appropriate decisions for themselves.

Prior to being an educator, I worked in mortgage banking during the subprime mortgage mess of 2007 to 2009. We would see loans come across our desks and, while the required documentation was there, you would often wonder "Can this person really make this payment?" or "Will they be able to afford this payment when the rate adjusts in the future?" These were real concerns and one of the reasons I left the bank and found my way to the classroom.

The earlier we are exposed to financial concepts, the sooner we can benefit from compound interest, appropriate debt management, and wealth acquisition. These are things that people need to know to live their best lives and contribute to the fullest in society.

We also can see the harmful effects of not understanding money and the impact that it has on families, communities, and societies as a whole.

Ostergaard: I agree with Will that financial literacy is real world education that matters.

For me, it's about empowerment. This means financial literacy is an invitation of sorts to success in the adult world. If students know the vocabulary of money — earning it, keeping it, saving it, spending it, investing it — then they have a foundation to learn more. It's a springboard to independence.

In that sense, I also see financial literacy education as an invitation to participate in the institutions that hold the keys. It can be the difference between being among the "haves" and the "have-nots."

Ferguson: It has been a challenging school year for both teachers and students. How have you adapted your approach to financial literacy during this unique period, and what has stayed the same?

Ostergaard: That's a tough question.

It has been harder. There are fewer hands-on activities, less group interaction and more independent work. But we can still inspire by using good quality materials and being real with our students — this is different, we're all learning new ways of doing work, and we're in this together.

At the end of the day, I think teaching virtually — part time now and full time last semester — has made me a better teacher. It has pushed me to figure out how to create engaging lessons that reach through the screen and impact my students. I have to be more purposeful in how I interact with students and choose activities. I have watched videos, read articles, paid attention to what gets a response, read my students' work even more closely to measure their understanding of a concept, gone back and retaught the material, and I have learned a lot in that process.

In that regard, I think communication is the key to effective virtual learning, and most of my students have communicated with me very well. There are those I can't seem to reach, so I engage the parents, school counselors [etc.] because I can't see them but we're a team and we work together. So, I engage the students and the counselors earlier, but this all takes time and energy. But it's worth it.

Chappell: The pandemic has challenged me as well.

I believe in teaching concepts and having my students apply that knowledge in novel and authentic ways. I want the content to be real and meaningful and personal to their lives. But the pandemic has brought ever-changing schedules and learning environments, increased student absences and decreased motivation, and more difficult communication with students and their families.

I've had to become more flexible and streamline the learning process. I can't go into the depth that I normally go into. I focus on the more immediate and pressing concerns. For example, instead of spending a significant amount of time on retirement and investments, I focus more time and energy on interview skills, paycheck calculations, and budgeting. These were skills that my students need right now as many of them are getting jobs to help their family pay their bills.

There still remains a curiosity about money and how to best manage it. The students have a desire to gain this knowledge because it will help them in both the short and long run.

Ferguson: With that being said, what types of resources have you used in the classroom to teach financial literacy, and which ones have proven to be the most effective?

Chappell: I typically create my own resources so I can modify them to meet the needs of my students and the state's standards of learning.

Pre-pandemic, I used a lot of direct instruction with lots of examples and opportunities to work things through together in small groups and as a whole class. We would work through problems with worksheets, videos, hands-on activities, and online tools.

Now, much of the instruction has turned into videos. The instruction has still been there, but just not always in person. Students are able to re-watch videos, use closed captioning and so on, so there have been some benefits. But I will continue to use videos as we transition into whatever education looks like next.

I have also tried to keep some of the hands-on activities because students still need experiences to learn from. In the fall, I conducted mock virtual interviews where students had to prepare for a real interview based on research they had conducted based on jobs and educational requirements. They were asked to schedule an interview with me and I conducted interviews on a virtual Friday all day on Google Meet. While it wasn't the same as our normal in-person interviews, there was still great value in the exercise. My kids will remember that.

Ostergaard: For us, while hands-on activities have been more difficult — whether because we're virtual or students can't share game pieces or sit close to each other in groups — we do engage them as much as possible in "hands-on" manipulative learning.

For example, I have used virtual manipulatives with Google products. I can see students moving their game pieces or writing words, and I can hear them talking when they are in different breakout rooms. Students need to touch the materials, be a part of the activity and the learning process, so we have had to create new ways to do that this year.

I also continue to use worksheets, online games and other web-based resources, and activities that involve personal choices and cause/effect.

Ferguson: You have definitely adapted to doing school in new ways. So, what resources have you used from the Federal Reserve?

Chappell: I have always been really impressed with the professional development offered by the Federal Reserve and the education teams at the individual Reserve Banks.

I have used [the] Dollars and Sense budgeting game from the Richmond Fed as a primer for our personal finance project. I want to dig deeper with the accompanying Invest in What's Next website. I think it can be a valuable resource for students who may never really put lifestyles and money together.

Ostergaard: I have also used Dollars and Sense and Richmond's "Your Connection to the Economy" infographic. Students need to relate economics to themselves and this helps with that real-world connection.

I also really, really like the District Dialogues series. I watch the videos and use them to give real-world, local examples to the economics theories discussed in class.

I have also leveraged materials from other Reserve Banks; for example, the St. Louis Fed's Econ Lowdown and the Atlanta Fed's infographics and "Extra Credit."

Ferguson: Give me an example of a how you used one of the Fed resources in your classroom.

Ostergaard: Sure. On the St. Louis Fed website, I have used the Page One Economics articles and FRED, which is a great combination of data to help students read graphs and remember that every data point is a real person.

Pre-COVID, I engaged my students in the classroom activities created by the Atlanta Fed that supported their infographics on economic systems and supply and demand. They have corresponding lessons called Extra Credit and we would do the activity together in groups of three or four. Now I give them a few minutes to consider how they would answer the questions and then we discuss them as a group.

Chappell: I use Dollars and Sense with my students as a way to introduce them to our economics course and our personal finance project. I have students work independently and then with a neighbor. This gives students an opportunity to explore on their own and think for themselves as well as providing them with someone to collaborate with and discuss things with. This dialogue is really important for socialization when it comes to money and personal finance and it gives students a safe learning environment where they can feel safe and take some risks.

Ferguson: Sarah and Will, looking into your magical teacher crystal ball, how do you envision tackling financial literacy in the future?

Chappell: Well, I think financial literacy will only grow going forward. I think you will see more and more involvement from the private sector in trying to provide effective resources for educators. In the long run, it's money well spent.

I think we need more and more community involvement, too, and opportunities to present more information to the school community, whether that would be parents, guardians, community members, alumni, faculty or staff.

Ostergaard: And I'll add to that [about] making connections within our school, too. Financial literacy needs to be deep and holistic and included in all our courses. Even just a tiny bit here and there in each course will make a huge impact as we look at the overall lessons.

Also, I agree with Will [about] making connections outside of the school. For example, here in Columbia the Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union does a presentation each semester to my classes to introduce budgeting. The South Carolina Treasurer's Office and our state economics council, known as SC Economics, created a program where teachers train other teachers and lead presentations on financial literacy concepts.

My school is looking at doing a financial literacy fair next year where we bring in a 4H program and local businesses and universities to have various stations for students to visit. We're getting creative and figuring things out.

Ferguson: What changes in priorities or approach do you think will stick around, and which ones will fall away?

Ostergaard: I want to be careful to not allow big business to use schools as a marketing resource to get new customers. But we want to leverage their knowledge and legitimate outreach and collaborate with them to improve our students' access to the formal banking system.

I also hope that a focus on testing will go away. We want to focus on real-world learning and hands-on learning. As we know, one size doesn't fit all.

Chappell: One of the things that I think is going to be here to stay are going to be videos. Effective financial literacy teachers will continue to find ways to incorporate both videos and in-person instruction to reach their students.

As to what may fall away, I'm not sure. It's hard to say during the pandemic while still so much is in flux.

Ferguson: Thank you, Will and Sarah, for sharing your experiences in the classroom.

Chappell: Thank you.

Ostergaard: Thank you for having us.

Ferguson: To learn more about the Teacher Collaborative Committee, visit our website, richmondfed.org. Just click on "Education" under the main menu, then "Resources & Programs."

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