Mission 2030 Guest Post: Sara Wittmayer Says COVID-19 Showed the Necessity for a Focused Personal Finance Curriculum in Schools
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
Sara Wittmayer is an educator at Nashua K-12 Schools in Nashua, Montana. Their school is the 149th recipient of the Gold Standard Challenge grant. Here is Sara describing Nashua’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?
In October of 2018, I was invited to attend a Next Generation Personal Finance workshop. I really bought into that curriculum and began implementing it into my Family Consumer Science Curriculum in January of 2019.
I pulled more from NGPF resources through the 2019-2020 school year and implemented an elective personal finance course for Juniors and Seniors. This transition was met with a wave of positive feedback from students and parents.
Then, in March of 2020 with the development of the COVID virus and the economic impact on individuals, it was obvious, there was a desperate need for personal finance education as a way to mitigate future financial crises.
I approached the administration with the idea in the spring of 2020 and started researching how the implementation might work.
The guidance counselor joined me in researching a stand-alone semester course and what it would look like for our school. We discussed the challenges and benefits of the adaptation.
In February of 2021, I met with the Nashua School Administration again and we went over the challenges, how we would overcome those, and the overall benefits to the adaptation of this program.
In April of 2021, we were able to present to the school board seeking approval for a semester-long personal finance course to be added as a graduation requirement at Nashua Schools. We were met with overwhelming support from the board and full approval for the program.
Starting in the 2021-2022 school year Nashua will require a semester personal finance course. The course will be offered to Juniors and Seniors.
What challenges did you encounter in your efforts to make personal finance a graduation requirement, and what solutions did you find for these challenges?
There were 3 main challenges I met as we developed this stand-alone required course offering.
The largest hurdle identified was in scheduling another required course. Because Nashua is a smaller school with fewer teachers most of our required courses are only offered once during the day, unlike larger districts. The school counselor needed to schedule the class so that all students have the opportunity to complete the course for graduation. We opened the offering to Juniors and Seniors so students would have two years to fit the class into their schedule. We also opened up an online curriculum option so, if necessary, there is an option to complete the course requirement outside of traditional hours.
The Administrator’s main concern was funding for the program. In researching the course adaptation, I reached out to surrounding schools that had also made the adaptation and discovered the NGPF Gold Standard grant opportunity. I took this with me to a meeting with the Administrator, he was immediately on board.
The final concern was with the overlap of an existing elective course, the Jobs for Montana Grads (JMG) program. We worried that a required course would cause JMG to see a decline in numbers. In meeting with the instructor for this course we found that both courses were in fact branches of the same tree and paired well together. JMG focused on career readiness preparing graduates for pursuits in business and entrepreneurship. This only slightly overlapped with the proposed personal finance course. We agreed the overlap in the two programs was in the essential understandings in each program, building and planning for personal and financial success in life after high school. We concluded that reinforcements of these values in multiple programs will always be beneficial for students.
What/who were the "catalysts for change" that allowed your efforts to be successful?
Sadly, COVID-19 was uniquely helpful in opening people’s eyes to the necessity of a more focused personal finance curriculum in schools.
NGPF in general has been a wonder to work with. The curriculum was essential to getting students and parents engaged with the content, and gain that initial positive feedback.
Finally, NGPF's Gold Standard Grant opportunity had a huge impact on getting my Administrator’s attention and paving the way to make this happen. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I would have achieved this goal without the monetary incentive.
Which stakeholders (students, parents, admin, business leaders, school board, etc) were helpful partners in your quest to make the graduation requirement happen?
Janice Rorvik is the Guidance Counselor at Nashua Schools and was essential in navigating concerns with adding a required course. She continues to be valuable for the program as each year she will continue to problem-solve to make the course available to all students.
James Russell is Superintendent and High School Principal and was supportive in making this adaptation to our school.
Jill Page teaches personal finance at Glasgow High School and made herself available for questions and helped guide me through this process.
The School Board was and continues to be immensely supportive of my program.