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.

Theresa Hagelbarger

May 2013

Theresa Hagelbarger
Villa Park High School
Villa Park, CA


Theresa Hagelbarger is the sole business teacher at Villa Park High School in Orange County, CA. She teaches eight different business and personal finance classes to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Theresa is passionate about personal finance and cites several reasons for her success in the classroom. On her own time, she studies personal finance topics. Her principal has also been very supportive and gives her freedom to create classes that most benefit her students. Theresa is the teacher advisor for her school's Future Business Leaders of America group, which has enticed students who have never competed or participated in a school program to be part of a team.

She believes that the Common Core Standards will allow for a more effective and hands-on approach to teaching. Many of Theresa's students have taken her classes year after year, so the lessons get reinforced over time. Her students' grades and attendance have improved exponentially, and she is now working with several other teachers at her school to show them how to incorporate personal finance into the different topics that they teach. "Before I took Mrs. H.'s classes, I knew nothing about personal finance or business and didn't want to know," said Justice Comeaux, the student who nominated her teacher for this honor. "Now being able to say that I can do accounting, balance a checkbook, understand a loan – it makes me feel so accomplished."

Theresa says, "My students are not afraid to test. Quizzes are extra credit in class, so there is no stress in the class if you score poorly." This approach has made Theresa's students more confident and proactive about learning. If they don't do well on a quiz, they use the testing opportunity to figure out what they need to study.

Her classes cover a wide range of personal finance topics including: how to use a checkbook, credit, identity theft, insurance (renters', car, health, etc.), student loans, financial aid, taxes, and investing. Theresa writes most of her own class materials, but leans on sites such as Practical Money Skills and the Orange County Credit Union (https://www.balancetrack.org/partners/occu/) for additional online lessons and quizzes.

Theresa often invites outside speakers from local banks and credit unions to share their financial knowledge and talk about their jobs. She also relies heavily on online resources and technology (e.g., apps, Excel, etc.) to engage her students since that is where their interests lie. For example, she encouraged her students to use their smart phones to video tape the valuables in their bedrooms for insurance purposes. She also talks about the cost of texting and driving on your insurance premium.

"You can't just teach out of a book. They are outdated even after a year. We use what's happening in the real world as our case studies. The highest level of reading is technical reading. If you can read your home loan and understand the mortgage document, you're going to be okay. Most kids do not know how to read forms. My students know how to do this."

Notes Theresa, "You have to be willing to change it up a bit (in the classroom). I don't teach the same way in all my classes. I listen to the feedback my kids give me about what's important to them." Theresa says personal finance classes give students who may not have traditionally succeeded in schools the chance to gain real life skills that they can apply to going to college, getting a job, and recognizing their full potential.

Practical Money Skills would like to commend Theresa Hagelbarger for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Villa Park High School.

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