Guest Post From Cathy Smith of Bayfield High School: It Makes Cents to Require Personal Finance

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Aug 25, 2020
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Advocacy

"You never regret a question you ask, but you do regret the questions that you failed to ask." -Anonymous

Cathy Smith is a passionate personal finance teacher and Changemaker from Bayfield High School in Bayfield, WI. She's very humble and understated, so I shall brag for her in the intro: Cathy's work was instrumental in converting her high school to the Gold Standard in financial education. She asked the right questions of the right partners at the right time, and made the graduation requirement happen for her students! As a result, Cathy's school was just the 10th in the nation to receive an NGPF Gold Standard Challenge grant. Congratulations!

Here's Cathy, in her own words, on how it all went down:

Because my journey to get approval for a semester-long personal finance class for graduation was not arduous, it has taken me some time to write this blog post. This is due to the fact that I thought my story was a non-story.

After much reflection, though, it occurred to me that my non-story could motivate someone else to ask this important question that may change the trajectory of many lives in the future.

The question is this: Why don’t we have personal finance as a requirement for graduation? Doesn’t this make ‘cents’?

I was newly back as a teacher at Bayfield High School after a hiatus of 20 years. In the past, I was primarily a Spanish teacher, so teaching personal finance was completely new to me. I remembered listening to programs on public radio about free curriculums on this subject that were available online. After a quick internet search, I hit a gold mine when I discovered Next Gen Personal Finance. Very quickly, I became a passionate personal finance teacher and advocate. I devoured all the information that was on the website and was especially affected by the data regarding the disproportionate number of students of poverty who were required to take personal finance classes, 1 out of 26 in comparison with 1 out of 12 overall. At my school, we have a high percentage of families who receive free and reduced lunches, so that disproportionate ratio hit home for me.

Furthermore, as I talked with colleagues and community members about what I was teaching, more and more people would make the following comments, totally unprovoked; “That should really be a required class,” or, “I wish I would have taken that class in high school.”

This spurred me on to start conversations with my principal and the high school counselor about the possibility of requiring personal finance for graduation. I did my research regarding what other districts in my area were doing, how many credits were already required for graduation, and how Wisconsin compared to other states. During the summer after my first year back at Bayfield, I met with my principal and superintendent about my proposal. Everyone continued to be supportive, with the same kind of "why aren't we already doing this?" reaction.

The following fall, NGPF came out with their Gold Standard Challenge with the $10,000 grant for high schools to adopt personal finance graduation requirements. I was SO excited. I have done plenty of fun, exciting things in my classroom, but I had never been a teacher who did big picture things that were newsworthy. . . but this was something BIG!

I put together my proposal for the Gold Standard Challenge, and it was accepted. I then talked with key community members to make sure they were on board as well. I presented to the school board that winter, and personal finance was approved as a requirement for graduation!

This year’s incoming freshman will be the first class that will have one semester of personal finance as a graduation requirement. My journey took some extra time and effort, but it went smoothly along the way because required personal finance just makes CENTS! I am very proud of my community for seeing the positive change that can happen with this graduation requirement, and I'm so thankful that we could work together to make this happen.

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