Oct 19, 2021

Mission 2030 Guest Post: Kristen Casto Made a Critical Decision to Change Previous Graduation Requirements

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

Kristen Casto is an educator at Orchard Park High School in Orchard Park, New York. Their school is the 95th recipient of the Gold Standard Challenge grant. Here is Kristen describing Orchard Park’s journey to the Gold Standard.

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?

The Orchard Park HS Business Department started addressing the need for financial literacy education in 2005 when we implemented our Academy of Finance program. The AOF program is part of NAF (www.naf.org), which is a national network of education, business, and community leaders who work together to ensure high school students are college, career, and future-ready.
Each year we’ve offered the program, we’ve seen the need for financial literacy grow, and promoted our stand-alone Personal Finance course as a course all students should take, not just our AOF students. As an added bonus, we have partnered with our local community college, SUNY Erie, for many years to offer our Personal Finance course for college credit. So not only are our students learning about real-world financial skills, but they also have the opportunity to save money on college before they even leave high school! While we knew we were having a positive impact on the 10% (approximately) of our students per year who took our course, we could see the gaps in financial “know-how” that existed between those students who took the course and those who did not.

In June 2019, our department made a presentation to the Board of Education highlighting all of the programming we offer (we love finance...but offer a lot of other courses and curriculum as well!). It sparked a conversation about financial literacy and its importance in our students’ lives now and in the future. The video we used in our Board presentation featured a video clip of Tim from NGPF, which led to the opportunity to meet with Christian from NGPF to discuss our financial literacy promotion efforts in October 2019. This meeting is where we learned about the Gold Standard Challenge and became excited to be a part of it.

From there, the conversation shifted to how to implement a financial literacy curriculum that all students would take. At the time, all students at our high school were expected to complete a semester-long computer literacy course as a requirement for graduation. What if we switched the requirement to financial literacy? We know that computer literacy is important, and students are still able to choose to take a course in that content area if they wish, but the stakeholders agreed that a course in financial literacy would be more impactful for our students in the long run.

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

Scheduling is always a challenge for our students. Our high school offers comprehensive programming for our students, and we value allowing our students the ability to choose their paths. In addition, taking computer literacy off of the “required” list of courses was a risk, especially in a world where we know students will need those skills. It was determined through conversations at many levels. departmental, building-level, and district-level, that a financial literacy requirement would give our students the knowledge they need to manage their own finances. No matter what career path they chose, an education in financial literacy would allow them the ability to live their best lives.

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

It really was a team effort. There were many years of offering financial education through our department that laid the foundation for Personal Finance becoming a graduation requirement.
Our AOF Advisory Board, which consists of over 40+ businessmen & women, educators, community members, has always supported our promotion of the Personal Finance course and the larger effort of financial literacy education in general. We definitely couldn’t have done it without our administrators, Dr. Krueger and Mr. Wolf, who supported the graduation requirement and took the proposal to the Board of Education.

Which stakeholders (students, parents, admin, business leaders, school board, etc) were helpful partners in your quest to make the graduation requirement happen?

"It takes a village, right? Those that were most helpful in making this graduation requirement happen were:
- Our administrators, especially Mr. Jonathan Wolf, High School Principal, and Dr. Lisa Krueger, Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum, for their support and advocacy
- Our Academy of Finance Advisory Board, whose support has never wavered in the 16+ years they’ve been a part of our programming.
- Our Business Education Department members, who put the work in every day to bring great lessons to our students.
- Our Board of Education, who when Dr. Krueger presented the financial literacy graduation requirement to them, approved the change with great enthusiasm.

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