Guest Post from Mark Rairigh: The First Change To My District's Graduation Requirements In Over 60 Years

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Mar 18, 2020
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Advocacy

Mark Rairigh is the Director of Secondary Education at Bryan City Schools in Bryan, Ohio. The high school in Mark's district, Bryan High School, is the 16th recipient of NGPF's Gold Standard Challenge grant funds of $10,000. Mark and his educator colleagues will be using the grant funds to implement a new personal finance graduation requirement beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Here's Mark in his own words on how Bryan City Schools got to the Gold Standard:

How long have you been advocating for PF and what initially inspired you to advocate for the course to become a requirement?

Bryan City Schools has made tremendous efforts in the last 5 years to incorporate curricula and coursework that focuses on preparing our students to be both career- and college-ready.

Within this broader focus, we began to overhaul the courses offered at Bryan High School in order to cater to the "life skills" that students need to be successful beyond graduation. We already had a Personal Finance course in place, but it was as an elective, so only a small percentage of our students were enrolled in the course. However, through this process we began to work very closely with our local business community and select parent groups. We asked them to identify the needs of students and the type of "product" they would like to see our students become during their high school careers.

Over and over, we heard that our students could greatly benefit from learning the skills associated with personal finance.

Topics such as credit, loans, insurance policies, debit, stocks, and investments continued to rise to the top of these initial conversations with parents and business leaders. So, in response, we began to analyze the possibility of requiring ALL of our students to take Personal Finance in order to help build their life skills for success. The course also began to fit in nicely with the Career Tech Pathways we were building for our students to help them pursue their goals and aspirations. The idea of this course becoming required for graduation was presented to the board of education and received very high support, which eventually led to the course becoming a required graduation credit at Bryan City Schools.  We thank the many stakeholders who helped guide our curricular decisions and for the input they passed along to us in regards to the importance of these skills.

Can you break down the timeline of the change for teachers who might want to make a similar push?

Of course! Here was/is the approximate timeline we have followed:

  • June 2019: The idea of the possible implementation of Personal Finance becoming a required graduation credit was conveyed to the Board of Education and the Board’s response was very open to this possibility.
  • September 2019-October 2019: A formal proposal that outlined how and when Personal Finance would become a graduation requirement was presented to the MS/HS Administrative Team, Guidance Counselor Team, and the Superintendent of the School District. Once these teams were aware, and the proposal was tweaked to meet the needs of the students and district, the proposal was communicated to the teaching staff.
  • October 2019 - November 2019: The board of education reviewed the proposal to make the change to have Personal Finance become a required graduation credit. They listened to a formal presentation by the Director of Secondary Education in the November 2019 board meeting.
  • December 2019: The Board of Education formally voted upon the proposal to make Personal Finance a required graduation credit for all students beginning with the graduating class of 2024. This was a major milestone as it changed the graduation requirements at Bryan City Schools for the first time in over 60+ years!!
  • January 2020: A guidance night and course catalog will be issued and presented to all students and parents entering High School beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The guidance staff, along with promotional materials, will spread the information about the required Personal Finance graduation requirement and how this requirement will be built into student schedules. Students (and families) will also schedule classes for the 2020-2021 school year during the month of January. Parents and students will have the choice of when to schedule the Personal Finance graduation requirement into their schedules and to review the course description of the Personal Finance curriculum.
  • February 2020 - March 2020: Staffing of the Personal Finance course will be determined. At this point we will know how many Personal Finance classes are needed and how to appropriately staff the classes.
  • March 2020 - August 2020: Professional development opportunities will be administered to our Personal Finance instructor. The instructor will have the opportunity to connect with community businesses, area school districts, and professional conferences held that pertain to the instruction and curriculum of the course.
  • August 2020: The course will officially be implemented to High School students for the 2020-2021 school year and beyond as a required graduation credit.

Which stakeholder groups (Students? Parents? Board members? Someone else?), if any, were helpful to you? Which groups, if any, were skeptical?

Support for Personal Finance becoming a required graduation credit was heavily voiced by all of the stakeholder groups we came into contact with. When the idea first surfaced to require this course for ALL students we immediately had approval from our teaching staff. Their voices were heard loud and clear when they began to convey to us how often they tie the "life skills" accompanied with Personal Finance into many curriculums and subject areas at our secondary level. More often than not, they did not have the appropriate time to review, reinforce, and teach finance skills within their subject areas, so they greatly appreciated the fact that all students would come into their classrooms with a strong foundation of knowledge related to finance.

The support continued from there with parents, administrative teams, and eventually the board of education. It was very interesting working with the Board of Education because in order to implement Personal Finance as a new graduation requirement our district was going to have to remove a course that has been required for decades and decades. However, our Board completely understood how education has changed over the years and how necessary and important it was for our students to be able to "be prepared for life" and therefore did not hesitate when approving this change.

Thankfully, there was very little skepticism from any stakeholders when it came to changing Personal Finance to become a required course. If there was any skepticism at all it was related to staffing the course appropriately and ensuring our students can take the course during a year of high school that is appropriate to them. We're working on that challenge together. 

What would you describe as the catalyst for change which allowed you to be successful in passing the graduation requirement?

The biggest catalyst was the fact that the course aligns with the mission and vision of our district. We strive to create opportunities for our students that prepare them for any pathway they decide to choose in life. The concepts, content, and depth of knowledge learned within the Personal Finance curriculum can be applied in all pathways of any student's high school and post-secondary plans.

When the many stakeholders who first learned about our Personal Finance proposal, their interest and approval was made drastically easier because the idea fit so nicely within our overall vision as a district. From there, the support from the top down made the process go smoothly and led to the desired outcome: a personal finance class for ALL Bryan City students.

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Here's a list of all the grantees.

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