Apr 21, 2020

Mission 2030 Guest Post: Patrick Kubeny of Rhinelander High School shares how an army of Personal Finance advocates helped his high school earn the Gold Standard

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 the Author

Patrick Kubeny is this week's Guest Author for the NGPF Gold Standard Challenge. Patrick was instrumental in making personal finance a standalone graduation requirement at Rhinelander High School in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, thus earning a Gold Standard Challenge grant! 

Here is Patrick in his own words on how he and an army of fellow advocates made the change happen!

How long have you been advocating for personal finance to be required?

As a new teacher way back in 1993, my colleague and I would often discuss how we felt that our personal finance class really should be a graduation requirement. We knew the subject matter was very powerful and that it could greatly affect each student's life. Parents of the students who elected to take the class would often tell us to work to make personal finance a requirement for all students. We would informally mention it in meetings when given the opportunity, but we felt like the idea we could accomplish this was, "pie in the sky."
When my colleague retired, I began teaching the personal finance course. I sought out professional development opportunities to better prepare myself to teach the class, and I benefited personally from learning to teach personal finance. In fact, teaching this course has changed my life!
I was determined to make the graduation requirement happen.

What challenges did you encounter throughout your journey?

I attended all three of Dave Mancl's NIFEL (National Institute for Finance and Economic Literacy) courses in Madison, WI over the course of two summers. It was there that I learned that more and more schools were pushing for a graduation requirement in personal finance. Their tenacity gave me the courage to begin formal conversations that I was too afraid to begin previously.
Over the years, I debated with multiple principals over the idea. However, as many personal finance teachers who have attempted to make this change have encountered, some administrators listened and appeased me with empty support, but did not get formally on board to help me make the change.
One highly regarded principal even challenged me to fight him on itI believe his words were, "I welcome the challenge, Pat. Bring it on." When I asked him why he didn't support the idea, he said that his job was to get students to graduate, and putting more graduation requirements in place meant more hurdles to jump and potentially trip over. I recall saying, "I would rather see them attempt to jump over hurdles in our building so they don't run face first into brick walls when they leave it." He didn't budge.
As a result, I did not feel confident I could win that round, and I held off pushing it with him. That principal ultimately retired, and the next principal was only there for one year, so I waited until he left.
The next principal was a long time assistant principal in our district, and I had good rapport with him. When I first went to him, he asked me what he should do if other departments asked him why some of their electives shouldn't be required as well. I replied, maybe you should listen to them. Allow them the chance to substantiate why they feel that way. I told him the district pays lots of money to send me to professional development sessions and this is what I am learning when I go to them.
At the time, due to student demand, my elective personal class was growing by a section every year, and more and more parents were getting behind me to make personal finance a graduation requirement. I would encourage them to mention to administration at parent teacher conferences how valuable they found the course to be for their child... and even for them personally, as many of their children would come home and teach them about what they were learning in personal finance.
I grew more confident - both inside and outside my classroom - because of all these allies I was making! I had tons of former students and parents who firmly agreed: the course should be required. I had hard data from all the professional development sessions I attended. I had local financial institutions behind me, all over town. I even had several other staff members in the building who agreed the course should be required.
I went to my principal one final time and told him I was moving forward - with or without his blessing. I told him I had an entire army of people behind me to support my efforts, and that I was no longer afraid to speak openly and formally about it. I told him I would be making my proposal to the school board, and I asked for his support.
I believe he knew it would be supported by the school board, and that fighting it would be a battle he would likely lose. I think he was also worried about how other departments in the high school would feel about it, and how he would handle their complaints and/or proposals to do the same.
The principal suggested we compromise and make a financial literacy graduation requirement that could be satisfied by taking EITHER Personal Money Management (taught in the Business Department) OR Economics (taught by the Social Studies Department).
This was not what I wanted, but I felt like it was a necessary concession to get the proposal passed. This either/or requirement has since been the situation at Rhinelander High School for the past several years.
But... I wasn't done!

What was the catalyst that allowed you to be successful in the end?

Every year, I attend the Economics WI conference, "Get Your Students Pumped Up on Financial Literacy and Economics," in Green Bay. A few years ago I learned about NGPF, and I had the good fortune of becoming an NGPF fellow. They have a standard system to recognize schools that teach financial literacy; to receive the Gold Standard, there must be a one semester personal finance course required for graduation. Since Rhinelander High also allowed Economics to meet the graduation requirement, we would be considered a Silver Standard school district.
However, the following year I received a Gold Standard poster in the mail on accident from NGPF. When I inquired, NGPF said it was an oversight, but offered to help me do whatever it takes to get Rhinelander to Gold status. It was because of this that I decided it was time to try to make this happen. A cascade of changes ensued shortly thereafter.
The first thing I did with my renewed momentum was to seek out my current principal, Shane Dornfeld, to gauge his support. He didn't hesitate, saying that making Personal Money Management a standalone graduation requirement was, "the right thing to do." He told me to contact the superintendent, Kelli Jacobi, with his express blessing on moving my idea forward.
Superintendent Jacobi asked me to write a formal proposal to submit to the school board. At first, there was a little resistance from the Social Studies Department, but they eventually supported the proposal as well. If it were up to me, Economics would be an additional graduation requirement, but that is another story. The Rhinelander School board adopted a new graduation requirement that all students must pass Personal Money Management, a one semester course taught in the Business Department, effective with the class of 2021.
I am very proud to say that we are now officially an NGPF Gold Standard school!
The impact of this decision is monumental...countless people's lives will be positively affected by it, hopefully indefinitely. I want to publicly thank all those that played a part in making this happen, especially my colleague that began the course decades ago, my administration and school board, Dave Mancl, and of course, NGPF! All it takes is one person to say, our school should do this too. Remember, you now have even a much bigger army behind you to help you make this happen!
Watch Patrick  in the documentary, The Most Important Class You Never Had

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