Guest Post from Patricia Bealmear of New Oxford High School: Stats, Student Testimonials, FOMO, and a Supportive Principal
Patricia Bealmear is a Business teacher at New Oxford High School in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. Her school is the 32nd to receive an NGPF Gold Standard Challenge grant for committing to ALL students taking at least one semester of personal finance prior to graduation. Here's Patricia in her own words on the challenges she faced, and how she found success over 10 years after she began advocating. Talk about staying power!
What was the timeline for your school's change to the Gold Standard?
A little over ten years ago, I started advocating for Personal Finance to become a graduation requirement in our school district as a standalone course.
I shared many statistics with my previous principal over those years, as well as feedback from current and former students, all making the case for financial literacy. I was very passionate about my vision, but nothing really changed in the early days. My previous principal agreed that the curriculum was important, but was not willing or able to take on the challenge of making the course a requirement. I know lots of other Gold Standard Challenge participants have faced this same challenge, where the administrator paid lip service but took no formal steps to help.
The structural challenge was that there were not enough business teachers to cover the course, and that students already had too many requirements for graduation. It was not a priority to my high school administration to add one more course to this laundry list.
This particular principal referred to the curriculum as "not a priority" with so many other academic requirements to fulfill. Honestly, this made me very frustrated and discouraged. I had seen the lifelong importance of this course and witnessed first-hand the impact of this class on my students. A course like personal finance isn't a priority? Because it's not on a standardized test? Then what were we doing?
I spun my wheels under these conditions for years.
What were the catalysts for change that ultimately made your case successful?
In January of 2019, under the direction of a new high school principal, I was finally invited to speak to our school board about my proposal.
Here's how it happened: my new principal, unlike the previous administrator, saw the importance and the relevance after reading the student testimonials I had compiled over the years. He was also shocked at how small my department was (1.25 teachers) compared to the business departments in smaller schools in my county and surrounding counties. My voice had been rather small before this new principal; I didn't work with a department chair, let alone Business Department colleagues who could back me in my advocacy.
Not only did my new principal become an advocate for financial literacy, but also for growing the Business Education Department writ large. The new principal also took the next step: navigating the red tape and bureaucracy en route to the school board. After I presented the need for PF to be a course requirement for all of our graduates, the school board was receptive and supportive. Getting in front of the board with my formal proposal in the first place was the real battle!
One idea that helped us solve the "too many requirements" problem was the removal of an outdated technology requirement. In addition, when I shared information comparing New Oxford to other schools in the area (you can see this comparison on the last slide of my board presentation here) was helpful. Combined with nationwide financial/consumer statistics, student testimonials, and the support of my principal, my case to the school board was compelling and solutions-oriented.
There were two main catalysts for change. First, I am fortunate to have partnered with an open-minded principal who was willing to take on challenges and make change! My principal was absolutely pivotal in making the formal change come about for financial literacy.
Students were the second catalyst for change. I was able to share my students' end-of-course survey results and comments with the board during my pitch. Also, I shared financial literacy statistics with the board in my presentation and graduation requirements of other schools in my county. We were the only District that did not require some kind of financial literacy course to graduate in our area of Pennsylvania. My portion of the board presentation is uploaded at this link for teachers to refer to, so you can get a sense for how I structured that presentation, which was ultimately successful.
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