Providing opportunities for students to practice financial skills and demonstrating passion about the content makes a significant impact on Stephanie Mills’ Financial Literacy class at South Warren High School. After 11 years of teaching, Stephanie continues to improve her lesson plans every semester based on self-reflection, student feedback, and professional development.
After more than a decade of modifying her course, Stephanie has built her lessons around real life financial milestones and interactive activities. The course begins with her students choosing a career path based on an online career interest assessment and researching the job outlook, expected salary, necessary training/education, and work environment. In the following unit, the students develop budgets based on their expected income and learn the importance of living within their means. They also learn the concept of “paying yourself first” and planning for a major purchase. In the banking unit, students research banks and credit unions to make personal decisions based on a variety of factors.
To understand the loan process, they complete an activity about car loans and analyze several factors, including interest rates, length of the loans, and down payments. Lastly, they finish the semester by evaluating insurance needs and explaining the basics of investing. Stephanie explains that, “These financial scenarios prepare students to make decisions and learn from any mistakes in a low-risk environment before they are required to manage their finances in the real world.”
Stephanie’s Financial Literacy students attended the US Bank "Student Externship" event.
Throughout the course, Stephanie supplements her lessons with a blend of external resources that help her students gain a stronger understanding of each concept. A few of the online resources she uses include Mint’s “What Kind of Spender Are You?” quiz, LearnVest’s “How Much Will My Lifestyle Cost?” calculator, and H&R Block Budget Challenge. She is extremely proud of one student who won “Honorable Mention” in the NextGen Payback Challenge and her two students who were selected in the “Top 10” for the W!se Slogan Contest.
In addition to online resources, Stephanie incorporates personal finance speakers, such as financial advisers, loan officers, realtors, financial aid representatives and insurance agents. She also arranges field trips for her students to meet the professionals at their workplaces. At the US Bank Student Externship, students learned about career opportunities in the banking industry and reviewed financial concepts. “Whether they are completing interactive assignments or interacting with guest speakers, my students are making connections to real world scenarios,” Stephanie adds. Because of the relevance to their everyday lives, students have expressed that their favorite units are using credit responsibly, protecting themselves from identity theft, and investing for wealth building.
In Stephanie’s nine-week, mandatory senior enrichment class, she utilizes the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University curriculum as well as the Foundations Digital online curriculum. In this class, they discuss various topics including the importance of saving, dangers of debt, and career development as it relates to meeting financial goals. Stephanie emphasizes that “Using the online curriculum allows my students to progress at their own pace and receive immediate feedback on quizzes.”
Although financial literacy is not a graduation requirement in Kentucky, Stephanie is dedicated to teaching the topic and reaches approximately 150-200 students each year. Stephanie believes her passion for teaching personal finance excites her students about the class.
Stephanie’s students display their Wise Financial Literacy certificates.
One student was so inspired that she reached out after graduation and wrote, “Because of your passion for your students to have real-life knowledge, I am a college student who manages to stay financially stable.” Stephanie expressed, “Not only did she learn the information, but she was actually applying it to her life. It was the best thing I could have heard as a Financial Literacy teacher. It means that all the time I’ve dedicated to this class is worth it.”
Delivering her course curriculum has had a positive impact on her students’ results on the W!se Financial Literacy Certification Test, used by Financial Literacy teachers across the country. In 2017, all of her students passed and three qualified as National Financial Literacy Scholars by scoring at least 95% on the test, earning Stephanie the Gold Star Teacher Award and qualifying South Warren High School into the top 100 schools for financial literacy.
Stephanie believes financial literacy should be a graduation requirement across the country and making strong connections with the parents/guardians and community is the key to improving personal finance skills among youth.
“When I discuss the class with parents/guardians, teachers, and community members, they always recognize the importance of it. They are also eager to learn about the specific content covered. I believe more teachers may want to teach it, but they could be intimidated by the content. However, once they learn about the available resources, professional developments, and opportunities for student scholarships, then they will probably be more than willing to teach the class!” she reiterates. When teachers are truly devoted to the content they are teaching, students also become excited about the topic.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Stephanie Mills on her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at South Warren High School.