After 30 years of teaching Consumer Economics in Wisconsin, Joel Chrisler is still finding new ways to share his personal finance knowledge with students at Sauk Prairie High School through storytelling and a peer-to-peer training program. “This is something that is going to make a difference in every kid’s life,” said Joel. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to teach this course. This is information that kids need to be taught.”
Initially, his Consumer Economics course was a popular elective — 70 percent of high school juniors and seniors enrolled. Now, the 9-unit course is taught over a 12-week trimester and is a requirement for graduation. It covers topics such as behavioral finance, consumer choices, basic economics, paychecks and taxes, paying bills, budgeting, saving and investing, credit, buying cars, insurance and shelter (renting apartments).
Joel Chrisler quizzes his students about behavioral finance in his Consumer Economics course at Sauk Prairie High School.
Joel uses simulations, personal finance articles and interactive games to help engage students in course materials. “One of the most effective strategies of all is just being honest and telling stories,” he said. “I always refer to my class as Real Life 101. I tell them, look I have made a bunch of mistakes and I have done some smart things too. If I can share those mistakes with you and help prevent you from making those mistakes, then I have really done my job.”
When alumni visit him on campus, they connect their real-life experiences with his own personal finance stories about everything from buying a car to identity theft. While he finds teaching tools like simulations effective, it always comes back to the storytelling. “That’s what resonates with students,” he says.
To ensure his students learn personal finance basics, Joel uses budgeting activities to get them started. “If you budget, you will have an idea of where your money is coming from and where it is going,” said Joel. “If an unexpected expense or crisis happens, students can make financial adjustments since they are prepared for it.” They examine how they make financial decisions and the consequences of those choices. He also explores with his students the opportunity cost of those decisions.
Another concept he covers in his class is premature affluence, meaning a false sense of wealth. Many of his students have part-time jobs and work a lot of hours. They are able to spend money they earn from part-time jobs on entertainment and clothes, because their parents are typically paying all of the household bills. Once they face the reality of being on their own after graduation, Joel says the lifestyle they had in high school can often change. They are now responsible for paying their own bills and cannot always spend money on going to movies or out to eat like they did when living at home.
A core component of Joel’s curriculum is a Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program, in which his high school students teach financial literacy lessons to local elementary school students. He spearheaded this program after he was sponsored by a local bank, Bank of Prairie du Sac, to attend the Jump$tart Coalition's National Educator Conference. He has attended 11 of Jump$tart’s conferences since first being sponsored by his local bank. “I credit this conference with solidifying my belief that financial literacy education is essential and that every student should have the chance to take a course that covers the important life lessons they need as they approach adulthood,” he said. “My attendance gave me examples of innovative ways to teach my students. I can say in all honesty that my role as an educator was forever changed by my attendance.”
Joel Chrisler’s Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program in action as his high school students ask 1st through 4th grade students a question during their financial literacy lesson.
As part of the Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program his students have presented 45-minute lessons on financial literacy to 1st through 4th grade classes in his district. To ensure the lessons were age appropriate, Joel reviewed the Jump$tart educational standards for elementary students. He identified grade-appropriate topics like wants and needs that could serve as the focal point of the lessons. “Being taught by older peers in our district, the younger students appreciate the lessons even more and are very engaged in learning about money, the choices they make and why it’s important at their age,” explained Joel about the program initiated in 2011.
The response to the peer-to-peer program was overwhelmingly positive. “My kids were excited and they loved the opportunity to do it. The elementary teachers loved the opportunity to see their former students, and the elementary students looked at these high school students like rock stars,” he noted. “It's the people they see on the football field on Friday nights, on the basketball courts or on a stage in a play. Now they are coming into their classroom and sharing a lesson on something they believe is important. That’s powerful.”
Typically, 100 of his high school students participate each year and serve 44 classrooms. Over the past nine years, the Peer-to-Peer program has impacted over 800 students each year. “I am very proud of the impact it has had on our school and community,” he says.
Consumer Economics teacher Joel Chrisler leads a classroom discussion with high school juniors and seniors at Sauk Prairie High School in Wisconsin.
Following each session, each elementary school teacher fills out an evaluation, which includes the question, “Would you like to see this activity continue?” The resounding answer has been yes. The program has also been recognized with two teaching awards by Economics Wisconsin (2011) and Wisconsin’s Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy (2012).
Validating the importance and the success of the program, Joel noted that his current high school students were participants as first graders in the Sauk Prairie School District. “It has cycled through. Now when students come into my class, they remember when they were taught as elementary kids, and they can’t wait to be part of it. That’s outstanding,” he said.
Joel Chrisler’s high school juniors and seniors lead a financial literacy lesson with local elementary school students as part of his Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program.
Joel’s advocacy for financial literacy extends beyond his classroom. He is a Fellow at NextGen Personal Finance, part of the State of Wisconsin’s Governor's Council on Financial Literacy and has attended nationwide summits convened by NextGen and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“It continues to inspire me to do more and to make my class better so students will get the most out of it,” Joel said. “I hope that other teachers will be able to advocate for financial literacy so our next generation of students will be prepared for some of the challenges they may face.”
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Joel Chrisler on his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Sauk Prairie High School.