Jul 22, 2021

Mission 2030 Guest Post: Stephanie Esser Changes Curriculum Despite Concerned Board Members

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

Stephanie Esser is a phenomenal principal at Lincoln Jr/Sr High School in Alma Center, Wisconsin who advocated for better personal finance for their students. Their school’s personal finance program is the 29th recipient of a $10,000 grant through NGPF’s Gold Standard Challenge. Here is Stephanie in their own words describing Lincoln’s path 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?

When I entered the principal role at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, the change of administration brought not only new leadership to the building, it also brought new ideas for the education of our students in personal financial literacy. During a collaborative meeting, when discussing essential learning outcomes for financial literacy in all of our current consumer credit classes, it became clear that our students were not being taught in-depth information from all six strands of the Wisconsin Standards for Personal Financial Literacy. Although each of the consumer credit classes touched on the strands, only Personal and Family Finance covered all of the standards in depth. Later, a team composed of myself as the school principal, our school counselor, and our Family and Consumer Science teacher, who teaches Personal and Family Finance, met to discuss the future of personal finance education. It was decided to make a recommendation to the school board for Personal and Family Finance to become a required graduation requirement, and the only way students could obtain the 1.0 consumer credit. The recommendation was approved at the February 17, 2020 School Board Meeting.

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

The teacher of Microeconomics/Macroeconomics was concerned about the enrollment size of her classes if they would no longer be an option to obtain the required consumer credit for graduation. I proposed that we look at an alternating schedule, every other year, offering Microeconomics/Macroeconomics alternating with Sociology/Contemporary Issues. Students have an interest in taking the latter two classes, but they are not offered due to our limited schedule. This change would allow more variety for our students while still holding enrollment numbers in that teacher's classes. Some school board members had concerns over the rigor of the PFF course in relation to other courses that are offered for consumer credit that more post-secondary-bound students generally take. It was explained that the level of rigor is determined from the content standards that are unwrapped into learning targets. With the new Wisconsin Personal Financial Literacy Standards just put out for public comment in January 2020, the Personal and Family Finance curriculum will need to be revised to meet these new standards, so curriculum work will be taking place this summer. There was still some concern by board members, but the recommendation still passed with a 4-2 vote.

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

Myself, school principal, and our Personal and Family Finance teacher both felt very strongly that all of our students should be required to take the same class to obtain their consumer credit to ensure we were providing all students with the financial literacy education needed to be successful in our society. Our district superintendent is also very supportive of the change.

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