Barbara Angelicola-Manzolli: my 10 year journey to create a high school personal finance graduation requirement

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Dec 03, 2019
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Advocacy

The following is a guest post from Barbara Angelicola, Lewis S. Mills High School, Burlington CT. Barbara's school is the fourth to convert to the Gold Standard and earn a $10,000 grant from NGPF's Gold Standard Challenge!

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The spark that ignited my passion for teaching personal finance

In 2008, my school received a small grant from the State of Connecticut to start a Personal Finance class for the 2009-2010 school year. From the moment the first class ran, I knew that my next goal would be to help this class become a graduation requirement.

Each year, I attended any Personal Finance conference I could find, soaking up PD and networking opportunities. The State of Connecticut soon asked me to teach sessions at the Connecticut Business Educators Conference on how to teach personal finance on a limited or no budget, using free resources. That session has since become a regular feature of the conference for the last several years.

The real spark was the sense of community I felt when partnering with educators. Helping teachers get excited about teaching personal finance only strengthened my desire to keep working to make it a graduation requirement. I am a die-hard Personal Finance teacher, and I love to share my passion! In fact, I have attended eight of the annual Jump$tart National Educators Conferences to continue building my network, and each year I have spoken with more and more teachers who were working toward the same goal. As the free materials (including NGPF) got better, the diversity of student activities grew, and it seemed that NGPF was always there to keep cheering teachers on to accomplish this goal around the U.S. Tim from NGPF even talked me into a podcast! 

What roadblocks did I hit?

Everyone from my Principal to the Superintendent to the Board of Education agreed that this course was important, but the roadblock that always stood in our way was, in some form or another, cost:

  • what if we need to add another teacher?
  • what would the cost of the books be?
  • how could we do this and still offer all our other business classes with our limited staff in the business department?

So it went in a 10 year cycle of "try, try again"...until last year.

Each year, Chris Rau, our school’s former principal, met with all members of the graduating class in small groups. In many of those listening sessions, the seniors who took Personal Finance consistently expressed how important they felt the Personal Finance class was. Chris already knew about my passion for the class, but the students’ perspective pushed the issue, and inspired Chris to act!

Chris Rau worked hard to persuade the BOE, eventually getting their support for a new proposal to include personal finance as a graduation requirement.

Yet up until last year, the requirement was still “on the table,” with no hard action from the stakeholders to make it happen officially.

What were the catalysts for change that allowed the graduation requirement to finally take effect?

Three principals later, and many hours of back-and-forth conversations, brings us to today. Personal finance is officially a graduation requirement in my school starting with the class of 2023!

The change that allowed the graduation requirement to take effect was our district’s recent initiative to build STEM skills among our graduates. This broader curricular shift opened up a natural fit for a financial literacy requirement to take hold.

What's next for Lewis S. Mills High School?

The next steps are already in process, with conversations happening with our local community college to have sections of our Personal Finance class earn college credit.  We will also continue to partner with our BOE as we implement both the requirement and the college transcription as well.

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Want to advocate for personal finance in your school community? Be sure to check out the NGPF Advocacy page for the tools to make your case with your board and administration. 

About the Author

Guest Post