Jul 15, 2021

Mission 2030 Guest Post: Kenneth Bissell Ensures Students are Future-Ready with Personal Finance

The following post is one in a series of inspiring stories from NGPF's Gold Standard Challenge Grant Program which incentivizes high schools and districts to commit to ALL students taking personal finance courses before graduation. Learn more, and apply for your $2,500 to $30,000 Gold Standard Challenge Grant before the August 31, 2022 deadline here.

About Today's Guest Author

Kenneth Bissell is a teacher at Greensburg Salem School District in Greenburg, Pennsylvania. Their school is the 47th recipient of the Gold Standard Challenge Grant for making personal finance a graduation requirement. Here is Greensburg’s path to the Gold Standard in Kenneth’s own words!

Describe a rough timeline for how you and/or your colleagues were able to advocate for personal finance to become a graduation requirement in your school/district. How long did it take? What were the major progress milestones?

During the winter of 2017, two administrators, a school counselor, and the superintendent met with admission counselors from local institutions for higher learning, and a local state representative. The discussion focused on ensuring more high school students were ready for post-secondary learning and work. However, we quickly discovered that many students are academically ready for what happens after high school, but severely struggle with managing their finances. Although we have an elective for personal finance and financial literacy, it was only being taken by 15% of our senior class population. We had to do more. In the 2018-2019 school year, Greensburg Salem started to meet with business, family, and consumer science departments to discuss reconfigure schedules, electives, and requirements to allow for a mandatory semester of financial literacy for all juniors or seniors. We created the plan in 2018-2019 and moved to present it to our board of directors. The first meeting with our education committee was in September of 2019 and there was a great support. We passed the course selection book in March of 2020, and the stand-alone course motion was made in April 2020.

What challenges did you encounter in your efforts to make personal finance a graduation requirement, and what solutions did you find for these challenges?

Our only challenge was finding a time and place in our master schedule. Parents, school board, students, and teachers were all on board and understood the importance of the course and the learning that would take place in it. However, we had to free up time by changing our freshman year digital literacy course from one credit to 1/2 credit. The freed up 1/2 credit could be used for the 1/2 credit (one semester) financial literacy in the junior or senior year, and the teachers would balance the two courses at the same time. The obstacle now will be on the building level master schedule and communicating with parents and families about how to schedule the course in their 4-year planning. Because the administration was on board the whole journey, the process was supported throughout for the benefit of students, teachers, and the community.

What/who were the "catalysts for change" that allowed your efforts to be successful?

The administration, the local colleges and universities, a local state representative, and the local workforce development board working together helped create the change. Our district also has a team called the Future Ready Alliance which is made up of teachers, counselors, and administrators who research and implement the best practices to ensure all graduates are "future-ready". The team's workforce and college preparation engagement helped move everyone in a direction to explore learning experiences that would best meet students' needs in becoming productive and responsible citizens. Financial literacy and personal finance were obvious to the team, and because the team is represented by multiple stakeholder groups of professional educators, spreading the message was easier.

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