Financial Literacy for Everyone
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  • "This curriculum has helped me reach and enlighten many young minds stuck in the darkness of the poverty cycle."

    Trent Kaufman, Dublin High School, Dublin, CA
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Innovative Educators

Innovative ideas and programs are what turns information into learning. Meet our Innovative Educators dedicated professionals who have found new ways to teach practical money skills in the classroom.

Debra Becker

March 2012

Debra Becker
Osseo Senior High School
Osseo, MN

Debra Becker, who has been teaching financial literacy for 30 years, calls her Personal Financial Management at Osseo Senior High School her "passion class." She feels it's the most valuable class students take to prepare for life after high school. The elective one-trimester course, which caters to 10th, 11th and 12th graders, is popular among students, probably as a result of Becker's passion for the subject matter and dedication to engaging, personal lessons.

Becker infuses the class, which covers everything from budgeting to investments, with examples from her own life and the lives of her friends and family. "Personal information makes the lessons more believable," she says. During a banking unit, she tells kids about someone she knew who racked up $500 in overdraft fees. Other examples are a cousin who had her mail stolen and became a victim of identity theft and an acquaintance who bounced so many checks at one time that she is now required to use money orders instead. Her hope is that example like these take teach students some of the hard lessons of personal finance so they may avoid common pitfalls.

The Personal Financial Management class begins with a unit on budgeting, during which students are required to track their expenses over a month, and use "practice" checking accounts to manage their finances. "By keeping their own budgets, students get to see exactly where their money goes," explains Becker. "They often can't believe how much they are spending." Completing a month-long check packet provides them with the real-life experiences of completing a check register, balancing a checking account and maintaining their financial records. As part of the banking unit, Becker also invites financial advisors to speak to the class, giving students and their parents the opportunity to ask investment questions and get professional financial advice.

About her curriculum, Becker says, "I use a variety of resources that are available for classroom use." She is continually adding new content and activities from a variety of resources and through events like the annual Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy National Educator Conference, which she attends each year. She also encourages students to answer their own personal finance questions by conducting research online. If they ask about the cost of overdraft charges, she has them check various bank websites and call branches to determine the costs across various institutions. Similarly, as part of her "Wise Buying Project," Becker gives students a dollar amount and indicates an item for them to buy, such as a TV, and then requires them to compare costs across stores and using different methods of payment.

Becker's class also includes units on mobile banking and financial phone apps, an insurance unit, a unit on post-secondary education and paying for college, a savings and investing unit and one focusing on the stock market. During a unit about credit, Becker uses the example of her own recent trip to Mexico, examining with students how long it would take her to pay off the trip if she made minimum payments on her credit card account. In addition, she also has a speaker come in to talk with the class about the role of credit in renting an apartment.

Becker believes in the importance of her Personal Financial Management class, explaining that is not just a 12-week course, but "one that teaches critical life-long skills." Its success is clear not only through her students' interest and engagement in the lessons, but by the feedback she gets from students and parents alike. "At conference time, parents say they can't believe how much their kids like the class." Along the same lines, students return after graduation to say how much they loved the class, and to tell Becker about personal financial accomplishments, such as opening a checking account. Clearly, a teacher who has loved teaching the course since its beginning 30 years prior is the main secret behind its great success.

Practical Money Skills commends Debra Becker on her efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Osseo Senior High School in Osseo, MN.

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