NGPF Gold Standard Challenge Grantee Dan Clement: The Best Answer To "Why Isn't This Course A Requirement?"

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Jan 16, 2020
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Advocacy

Dan Clement is an enthusiastic personal finance teacher from Somers High School in Somers, CT. Dan's school is the 11th in the country to be awarded a $10,000 grant for their personal finance program.  He earned this by moving his school to NGPF's Gold Standard by adopting a one semester standalone personal finance course that ALL students will take prior to graduation. Kudos to Dan for his dogged determination to support his students with comprehensive financial education. Here's Dan in his own words on the hard work it took to get the graduation requirement across the finish line.

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What got you interested in advocating for personal finance to become a graduation requirement?

I've been advocating for this common sense idea for as long as I've been teaching personal finance. However, after years of hearing, “Why isn’t this course a graduation requirement?” from parents and students alike, my school is now moving beyond informal conversations of what could or should be to what will be. I couldn't be more excited for the progress we've made in such a short window. Check out my journey below.

What was the timeline for making the graduation requirement a reality?

Fall 2018: the timing was finally right with our school forming a “Vocational Council.” This group included local business professionals who were charged with the task of advising our career and technical teachers as to the skills students need most to succeed in life and work. The most popular point of discussion in the Vocational Council very quickly became the significance of personal finance instruction for our students.

I decided to take this outside momentum and run with it.

April 2019: I wrote a letter to our school principal, copying all district administration, proposing that we officially make personal finance a graduation requirement.

My letter:

  • began with bulleted statistics demonstrating the overwhelming need for students to become financially capable,
  • emphasized student loan debt within our state, loan delinquency rates, lack of people saving funds for emergencies let alone retirement, household debt, and other hard figures,
  • listed the seven surrounding school districts that already had this requirement,
  • bulleted various benefits to our students, such as gaining computer skills through the course we offer,
  • demonstrating how this initiative would be consistent with our district’s strategic plan,
  • explained how we could accomplish the requirement with no additional staffing or costs to the district, and
  • concluded with an explanation of how we could earn the support of our local Board of Ed, as well as the positive feedback I’ve received from parents and students.

One key to my argument that the requirement wouldn't be costly to the district was that, like many teachers, I create the materials for the course (no textbook required), and the course is already offered as an elective. It was, therefore, a matter of teaching more of one course and less of another. While this challenge was no small matter, it was significantly easier to accomplish without concerns for the district's budget. 

I soon learned we would be supported by our Board of Education! Around this time, a Board of Education member coincidentally passed along to me an article from a local newspaper, which emphasized why personal finance should be a graduation requirement. I gave her a copy of my letter with the hopes it would lead to a conversation among board members and other stakeholders.

May 2019: Overhearing the external demand from students, parents, the Vocational Council, and the Board of Education - coupled with my letter - our district’s Director of Curriculum took notice. We’re fortunate to have a curriculum director who doesn’t believe in “analysis paralysis,” especially with something so critical for students’ success beyond high school. She asked that I meet with her, and during the meeting she outlined the most critical points in my letter. She stated our Superintendent and Board of Education supported the goal. We’re also fortunate to have a Superintendent and Board of Education members who believe in practical, common-sense initiatives that will benefit students. After reviewing the highlighted notes our Director of Curriculum streamed across my letter, she assisted me with the procedural formalities for getting the ball rolling on our now common goal. 

I'll wrap up with the (exciting) end of the timeline in the next few sections...

What roadblocks did you encounter along the way?

The main challenge I ran into was that I made my proposal directly after Connecticut had restructured its state graduation requirements.

I was initially worried that, due to the timing, our district would consider personal finance yet another change in a sea of state-initiated updates. Regardless of the state’s initiatives, this was too important for students. When I next met with our Director of Curriculum she had a great idea: among the new graduation requirements was a capstone project students had to complete by their senior year. She tied personal finance into this requirement, in which students would have to demonstrate competency in personal finance, as applicable to their capstone projects. The computer skills they would gain from the course would further assist them in many aspects of their projects.

At this point, numerous informal meetings took place among school and district administration. We also had meetings among elective teachers, as this would be yet another carved out requirement among the state’s restructuring. Among the teachers, we were able to develop various plans and proposals on how to handle the other state requirements, while still accomplishing this goal. We provided such feedback to our administration, who held further meetings, some of which included us. Personal finance, it was decided, would become a recommended prerequisite to the capstone.

Things were on track, but we weren't quite settled on a graduation requirement.

What was the catalyst for change that allowed us to finally pass the graduation requirement? 

In October 2019, I attended a state-wide personal finance conference with our Director of Curriculum. It was evident that teachers across Connecticut were passionate about making personal finance a state graduation requirement. Our State Treasurer and representatives of the State Department of Education were in attendance, and took note of our passion. NGPF presented their curriculum during a portion of this conference. We were impressed with NGPF’s genuine vision for students and the wealth of materials they provide at no cost. We further learned about NGPF’s Gold Standard Challenge and the opportunity to earn a $10,000 grant if our district followed through on our graduation requirement proposal.

We left the conference feeling even more inspired to take our change a step further: a graduation requirement for every student.

What's next for Somers High School?

My students and I have been fortunate to have the support of parents, school and district administration, our Board of Education, as well as NGPF and the Gold Standard Challenge Grant opportunity.

November 2019: our district’s BOE committed to ensuring we will not only focus on what students may need when they graduate, but what they will need. They approved a .5 credit graduation requirement in personal finance starting with the 2020-2021 school year.

Let's do this!

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