Financial Literacy for Everyone

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January 12, 2018

Maggie Robles

Centennial High School
Corona, California

Maggie Robles takes a unique approach to teaching her Financial Algebra students about personal finance. She explains to her students that they need to understand how to manage their time in order to manage their money, equating bills to homework deadlines. To help her students understand credit, Maggie compares credit scores to GPAs. Instead of zeroing out a grade for a missed deadline, she gives the student a penalty for the late assignment – similar to how credit works.

After teaching math for over 10 years, Maggie spearheaded the Financial Algebra course at Centennial High School in Corona, CA in 2015. When her school district approved the class, she took it upon herself to recruit students. In Maggie's first year teaching Financial Algebra, she succeeded in recruiting 75 seniors for the first two sections of the course. Now, in her third year of teaching Financial Algebra, she has maxed out capacity of all five sections, with a total of 200 seniors in the year-long course.

Maggie Robles

Local bank representatives visited Maggie’s class to present financial literacy products and college guidance.

As the only Financial Algebra teacher at Centennial High, she undertakes the planning, researching and designing of resources to implement in her classroom. Her process for developing lesson plans and activities includes exploring online tools, signing up for blogs and seeking out free resources. When Maggie tries out a new teaching method, she asks her students for their direct feedback and is constantly on the search for new teaching tools. "It's all about trial and error," she says.

Maggie integrates innovative teaching tools to maximize her students' learning and interest in topics, with an emphasis on digital learning. Once a week, she selects a documentary or program like TedTalk video content to illustrate how financial topics impact people everywhere with real-life applications. She utilizes Flocabulary videos, concepts and quizzes, as well as the Nearpod app as a lesson delivery system for students to interact with digitally. She is able to engage with her students about assignments and answer their questions even when they are outside of the classroom with the digital communication tool Remind. Maggie even keeps in contact with an alumni group with the tool. Former Financial Algebra students often visit her current classes to talk about their financial experiences post-high school, which her students find valuable.

Maggie Robles

Financial Algebra students participated in the H&R Block Budget Challenge.

It's a diverse group of students in the course – for some it's a new subject, for others they are already practicing financial basics such as opening their own bank account and learning the family business. Although she has a large mix of seniors, Maggie believes that this helps her course because it teaches them how the world really works. "No matter your background, everyone needs to know how to pay their bills," explains Maggie.

Many parents are uncomfortable having the financial talk with their kids and are concerned about them taking on the new responsibility of managing credit. However, Maggie believes that all students need to learn how to use credit wisely. "It's like driving a car – you need to learn the rules and be mindful, which takes practice," says Maggie.

Maggie Robles

Students in Maggie’s Financial Algebra class won a class grant for $5,000 for finishing in the top 10 of over 800 teams nationwide in the H&R Block Budget Challenge.

After spending the first semester on lessons and activities to learn basic financial concepts, Maggie uses the second semester to test their application of each concept. She also evaluates how well students have developed effective habits to help them maintain a healthy financial behavior. A particularly eye-opening experience for students was having to manage their own financial behavior in a 10-week H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation. The students are able to experience the highs and lows of budgeting their simulated income as they handle unexpected financial difficulties like a medical emergency or car issue. The program teaches students that financial bumps in the road are inevitable, but it's most important how they react and respond to mistakes and learn from them. Students are forced to experience living paycheck to paycheck in the activity, which they realize is not ideal. "It's an eye opener for students with graduation months away. It really drives the point home," says Maggie.

In 2016, her students received a $5,000 class grant for two student teams placing in the top 10 of the national competition. In 2017, all five of her student teams finished in the top 6 percent. Eighty percent of her financial algebra students in the past two years completed the 10-week simulation with an individual national ranking in the top 20 percent.

Maggie Robles

The students received grants at an award presentation for the H&R Block Budget Challenge.

Another way Maggie makes her class more interactive is through reality check investigations. She lets her students choose between going to bank, interviewing their parents about their job, talking to business people and researching financial topics. They are then asked to present their findings and discuss them in class to learn about how people cope with various financial situations. This activity teaches students to ask questions about money and feel more comfortable discussing finance with others. She explains that the social and emotional side of learning about money can be just as important as the technical aspects. "It's not about making millions, but having the tools to become independent and successful," says Maggie.

Maggie Robles

Financial Algebra students participated in budget exercises to help them develop spreadsheet skills for financial components like loan rates, future deposits, etc.

Many students are used to teachers telling them the right and wrong answers without much discussion. Maggie takes a different approach. When her students come to her with a question, she encourages them to research the topic and determine the answer themselves. Her goal is to prepare her students for when they leave school and will have to take on many of these financial issues themselves. Maggie often tells her students how many days she has left to teach them for free. Once they are living on their own, they may need to pay for financial advice. "I only have 180 days with you. After that, I can charge you as a financial advisor," she explains.

The next goal Maggie has is to advocate for mandating Financial Algebra as semester course as a requirement for graduation. "I believe students should have free access to financial education," says Maggie.

Practical Money Skills would like to commend Maggie Robles on her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Centennial High School.

Maggie Robles

One of Maggie’s students shared her financial literacy presentation along with her family, presenting 45+ years of expertise from their family owned and operated tax prep office and more.

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