Getting Financially Lit

By: Greg Tiller

As seniors begin to make the transition from high school to the real world, there are many skills they will need to be familiar with in order to be financially successful in life. Jenks does teach a class to inform students of these needed skills. However, the class is taught for only one semester and primarily during freshman year. By the time students are completing high school, they have forgotten most of what they learned during the class.

Because of the passage of the Passport to Financial Literacy Act of 2007 into law, Oklahoma schools are required to ensure that their students learn and demonstrate a “satisfactory knowledge level” of the fourteen standards of financial literacy. At Jenks High School, there are a few different ways that you can fulfill these standards. The most common method is by taking Financial Literacy as a course in class.

“It’s kind of an overview,” said Financial Lit teacher Grace Alexander. “I try not to go too deep into it because I know I could tell them everything they need to know about insurance, especially health insurance, but is that really going to benefit them at this age. My philosophy is that I need to get them to understand the concepts and to get them to figure out how to find out for themselves.”

Most students taking the Financial Literacy course at Jenks don’t yet have a job so they don’t have to worry about a lot of financial issues. A lot of students struggle to remain engaged with the curriculum being taught due to it being “boring” or because they don’t see it as important information at the moment. 

“I try to make things as hands-on as possible,” says Alexander. “Hearing about it or seeing it on a PowerPoint isn’t as constructive as trying to struggle through it yourself. So we do a lot more budget scenarios where they actually have to try to figure this out and see how they make mistakes and making those mistakes are probably the most valuable lessons they can have in the classroom. This is a great safe place for them to make those mistakes because this is actually not their money yet.”

When students move on from freshmen year and finally do start dealing with real-world financial issues, a lot have forgotten about most of what they learned in class. So is it effective to keep the course at the freshmen level or should this be changed?

“It should definitely be changed and we’ve been petitioning for it,” Alexander says. “One of the main reasons I think it should be changed is that it is the number one complaint I have from teenagers and their parents. ‘Why don’t they teach this when they’re older?’ I love my freshmen, I love them so much but some of them just aren’t ready for these concepts. Some of the concepts, especially when we talk about taxes, and insurance, and why you should or should not self insure, they’re just not ready for it. Some of them are still in Algebra 1 and their brains are still struggling with that.”

On the other side of the argument, others believe that it’s best to teach kids about these skills early so they’re more familiar with it when it does come time to start using these skills.

“When they go through activities that show them how much money they’d make and then show how much money they make after taxes, it makes it real and people start to sit up and listen,” Thorn says. “I would say it greatly benefits students. Parents are thrilled that their kids are going through something like this and I would say it benefits our state and our country for our students to be more aware of how responsible they have to be with their money.”

Aside from the in-class course, there are two other ways that students can fulfill the state-mandated requirements. These two additional methods are both virtual courses. One is offered through the high school for credit. The other is a free course called FoolProof that is offered by Tulsa Teachers Credit Union and approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Over 70% of Jenks freshmen end up taking the course in class. While you’re more likely to retain information by doing the course in class, taking the virtual option might be best for some students in terms of time management.

“I would say for some students, it’s a good idea to go ahead and do it virtually,” says Freshmen Academy site principal Judi Thorn. “Students have so many things competing for their time. They’re in cross country and they’re in chorus and they want to be really active in a world language. So that leaves very little time to put an actual course in there. So in those cases, I would say it might be the best thing to go ahead and do the virtual.”

But for many students who do have an availability, it might be best for them to do the course in class.

“We’ve covered a lot,” said freshman Ben Kimberling. “Starting off with taxes and just basic things like social security, Medicare, and income taxes. Right now we’re working on stuff like long term investments, so like savings accounts and stocks. I would say you’re more involved because there’s a teacher and you can do group projects with other people. So you get to think a little more and help is there if you need it.”

Regardless of whether you think the current system of Financial Literacy education at Jenks is working, it’s important to know that the people in charge are doing their best to make sure the course is as functional as possible. Whether it’s through the in-class course or one of the virtual options, make sure to make the best of the opportunity you’ve been given. The skills that are being taught may not seem important at the moment, but definitely will be before you know it.

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