Oct 21, 2019

Mission 2030 Guest Post: Julius Prezelski - It's Official!!! Personal Finance now Required at Mt. St. Joseph (MD)

Blog post written by NGPF Fellow, Julius Prezelski of Mt. St. Joseph High School in Baltimore, Maryland. His school was the 1st in the nation to receive a $10,000 Gold Standard Challenge Grant from NGPF when the school committed to all students taking a standalone personal finance course before graduation. Learn more about the Gold Standard Challenge, and how this teacher community is making progress toward Mission 2030 whereby ALL high schoolers will take a personal finance course before graduation, here.


Background on my advocacy journey

I actually started teaching Personal Finance back in the mid-90’s at DeMatha Catholic High School when I stumbled upon a book from Beth Kobliner called “Get a Financial Life”.  After reading the book I became committed to teaching the course. Luckily, the Principal of the school loved the idea and I had my first course up and running based on the book.

Fast-forward to 2010, I am at a new school (Mt. St. Joseph) and teach Computer Science. However, my first love is Personal Finance. When I first pitched the idea of the course, the comment was “another singleton course”. Again timing is everything and the Comptroller of Maryland, Peter Franchot, was pushing hard to implement personal finance as a mandatory requirement for graduation. I realized Mt. St. Joseph would need to follow the state guidelines; thus, I got all my past material together and redesigned a semester course that could easily be implemented with little added cost. Also, one of my cohorts has the educational background to teach the course in the event I could not.

I found that when trying to add to a curriculum, one must think of all the questions that are going to come as pushback. Being prepared with answers to all the questions that may occur during the initial meetings with the administration is very important. The one comment I received from an administrator was “this should be taught by parents”. This comment, to me, is an old school mentality and/or a resistance to create change and it just takes persistence and testimonials to overcome this mentality. I promoted the benefits that obviously outweighed the few concerns. I even spoke individually to other department chairs since they had a vote in the process. In addition, I used the term “Personal Finance” rather than “Financial Literacy” because I believe people understand the latter as more generic; “Personal Finance” seems more transparent of its intent.

Working with Administration

At this point, the Principal was all in favor of it and we were able to move forward. I had been teaching it for roughly four years but realized that, as an elective course, it was not attracting the higher level students. The next step was to get the course set up for not only college prep level but an honors level. Again, being in a private school, I had some leeway. I took one year and starting creating an honors level course within my original college prep course. I found materials from Next Gen Personal Finance, JumpStart, EconEd, etc. online; I used ideas from others from Twitter and went to different conferences to get even more material. There is a ton of resources available (most free) and people have been very generous and supportive.

I then asked some of my students if they would be interested in being the test subjects for an honors level course. They agreed and I started giving those students the differentiated material while still teaching the same class. After one year of doing this, I put together an entire printed version of the honors course and syllabi, and approached the administration about offering both courses simultaneously. Since I was able to try it out in a live class for two semesters, I was able to show the administration how it would exactly play out. In my combined class, the student makes the decision on which level to be in and the course runs simultaneously. Therefore, there are no scheduling issues for the students or me.

Feedback on the Course from Students and Parents 

Finally, I have relentlessly tried to make the course more hands-on and student centered with projects, worksheets, and activities. I have received a lot of positive feedback from students AND parents. They speak of it being their “favorite class” and “wishing they had it in school” and their child “even taught me a few things I did not know”. This, of course, supports the value and worth of the course and drives me to continue updating the curriculum so that one day it will become a mandatory class at my school.

It's Official!!!

And the very latest is......It's official!!! Personal Finance will be mandatory for all students at Mt. St. Joseph H. S. starting the fall of 2020. It took six years!! As mentioned above, it started as an elective then added an honors level. This year we have eight sections and it was the most sought after elective. The three areas that helped move the needle: the students, parents, and ultimately what is best for the students. Super excited!!!

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