Sharon Paul draws upon her experience as a former financial advisor and current real estate professional to ensure that her Economics & Personal Finance course provides information that is relevant and meaningful for her students.
Sharon and her husband find ways of turning everyday situations into learning opportunities.
Twenty-three year ago, Sharon began her teaching career as a Mathematics teacher at her former high school, but was looking for something to do in her spare time. She began helping her husband with his financial services business. After accompanying him on business trips and attending conferences and trainings, she decided that this was an area that she also wanted to pursue.
"Having worked with clients who were in desperate financial situations, we realized the overwhelming need for financial literacy in our community. It was important to us that our community was financially aware in three areas – adequate life insurance, investing for retirement, and college savings."
Sharon's focus then became preparing presentations, seminars, and workshops for local PTA's, church groups, and other community organizations. However, she also wanted her students to be exposed to some of the information that she was sharing in the community, so she started to integrate finance topics throughout her lessons.
"When introducing Exponential Functions, I used the Rule of 72 as an example of exponential growth. When learning how to analyze graphs, I used stock graphs. My Pre-Algebra students were very strong in adding signed numbers because I had the students translate the problems to money," Sharon explains.
Four years ago, Sharon was given the opportunity to utilize her professional background in finance to teach the new graduation requirement, Economics and Personal Finance. The year-long course is housed in her school's Career and Technical Education department. However, the course is taught by Business, Family and Consumer Science, Mathematics, and Social Studies teachers.
Sharon explains that each course in her school has its own Collaborative Learning Team, where they share a common planning period. The variety of specialties allows them to create learning experiences that truly make the subject matter meaningful to all of their students.
"Our Economics and Personal Finance class is even more critical now that students must earn a career and technical education credential for a Standard Diploma in the Commonwealth of Virginia," Sharon says. "We ensure that all students, both Standard and Advance Diploma, meet this graduation requirement through the W!SE Financial Literacy Certification test, which we administer at the end of the school year."
Sharon with John Good from Funding the Future and Ian Redman from C.A.R.E.
When an individual teacher has at least a 90 percent of the class passing the W!SE test, the teacher is awarded the W!SE Gold Star Teacher award. When the school has at least an 80 percent pass rate, the school gets the distinction of being a Blue Star School. Sharon has earned the distinction of W!SE Gold Star teacher every year that she has taught the course and has helped Hayfield achieve Blue Star School status.
Sharon's students' test results on the certification exam are high because she keeps the classroom activities compelling and as real as possible. She frequently brings in her own financial documents, blocking out the sensitive information, so that students can get a sense of what those documents look like. For example, students have seen her Health Insurance Explanation of Benefits, Credit Card statements, Credit Report, Sales Receipts, and Auto Insurance Declaration Page, to just name a few.
Additionally, Sharon encourages parents to share with their own financial documents with their children.
"Through email, I communicate what we are discussing in class and I offer my parents suggestions for what they can use, do, or show, to extend and enrich what we are learning in class," explains Sharon.
Another way she adds value for her students is by finding movie and TV show clips that promote critical thinking and problem solving skills. From financial guidance segments to animated movies, small teachable moments can help students connect their material in a way that's memorable.
Taking the lead on new projects for the team is important to Sharon and she enjoys organizing events and activities that go beyond the curriculum. For example, she has developed a partnership with Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE), a community outreach program consisting of bankruptcy professionals focusing on financial literacy. Each year she arranges for the CARE program to present to all Hayfield Secondary Economics and Personal Finance students. Over two days, bankruptcy attorneys speak to each class about consumer debt.
This year, as a fun end-of-year culminating activity, Sharon is bringing in an organization called Funding the Future, whose goal is to bring financial literacy through music. A band will come in and host a concert, followed by a presentation focusing on debt and student loans.
Sharon in front of Scotiabank in Grand Caymen.
"The program is an in-house field trip and we are looking forward to it," says Sharon. "Next year I plan to invite other schools so that they can take advantage of the program as well."
Programs like these not only enrich her own students' learning experiences, but the experiences for other teachers' students as well.
Though Sharon is proud of her existing programs and activities, she has high expectations for the continued growth of her curriculum. She is constantly looking for ways to expand upon opportunities particularly relevant to students.
This year Sharon noticed that many of her seniors were not applying for college scholarships, giving up opportunities that would make college tuition more affordable. To make the application process easier, Sharon is currently working on hosting a weekend scholarship writing boot camp for the upcoming school year.
"Many students said that they were not applying because of the essay," Sharon explains. "I cannot keep telling the students to apply and not help them overcome the essay barrier."
Sharon's continued dedication to recognizing students' needs and developing creative content for the classroom is certain to help more of her students graduate with a strong grasp of personal finance topics and the ability to manage their money.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Sharon Paul for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Hayfield Secondary School.