Jul 30, 2023

Teacher Talk with Carey Barzeski

“Distinguished Educator” Carey Barzeski found NGPF the month before she started teaching personal finance for the first time last fall, and feels it was the thing that set everything in motion for her. Her story provides encouragement to teachers new to teaching personal finance—you can make a huge difference from the start!  With passion and support, learn how much Carey accomplished in her first year.

Carey credits the fact that she is a lifelong learner, striving to learn everything she can about something when she encounters a challenge. You will read more about her NGPF experience below, but it led her first the FinLit Fanatics group where she found lots of help and support, and learned about the Jump$tart Conference in the fall.  At a local PD she attended, she won a full scholarship to that conference, including her expenses. This established a relationship with the CFA Society of Pittsburgh, which sponsored the scholarship, Gene Natali (author of The Missing Semester), who used her classes to Beta test some of his applications, and of course all of the networking she did at the Jump$tart Conference, including getting to meet the NGPF folks in person!  


Here are Carey’s answers to our interview questions:


  • Where/how were you first exposed to personal finance lessons in your life?

My parents taught me my first and most influential money lessons. Some of the earliest and still relevant ones are: (1) Live below your means. (2) Save a portion of every dollar. (3) Don’t waste resources. My dad consistently modeled and reminded me to not use too much toothpaste, shut off the lights, compost food waste, use the same glass all day…the list is nearly endless. (4) And my favorite, said in my mom’s voice. “We can go out to dinner more often if you don’t order a beverage, an appetizer, or a dessert.”


  • What makes you so passionate about financial education?

Financial education with action is a powerful combination. I want to share the transformative power of financial education with my students. 


  • Do you ever share personal finance anecdotes from your own experience with your students? If so, care to share one that seems to make an impression on them with your fellow educators?

I often share personal money stories but my favorite stories are student impact stories. Here are a few of my favorites from this year: 

  • Emily is avoiding student loans by choosing community college while living at home and then plans to transfer those credits to a university in two years.
  • Maria inherited her parents’ credit score by becoming an authorized user on their credit card account, all this before her 18th birthday.
  • Carey bought a car this year–a 2019 Subaru Impreza--ALL on HER own without her parents co-signing. She used the information from our class to secure a low APR, used her tax return for the down payment, and is making extra payments to shorten the term of her loan.


  • Please describe your school for us.

I teach at McDowell Intermediate High School in a suburb of Erie, Pennsylvania called Millcreek Township. Our district has nearly 6,500 students, with the high school campus having just over 2,000 students. Our district’s mission is to “provide a world-class education that prepares students to reach their full potential as life-long learners and responsible citizens.” I think that personal finance education fits right in that mission statement.


  • What class(es) do you teach, and what age are your students?

I teach Personal Finance as an elective to mostly juniors and seniors. I also teach Intro to Business to students in grades 9-12. 


  • What are your students’ favorite classroom activities?

Some of my students’ favorites this year were:

  1. The Bean Game - Who knew that working within a budget and talking with classmates about money values could be so fun? Even when they were hit with “life happens” situations, my students were able to pivot and make some tough choices.
  2. $TAX - My students played the game as an attention grabber at the beginning of the investing unit and then again at the end of the unit as part of a summative reflection and analysis. The investment decisions during the end of the unit game showed a huge shift in mindset from either a  “buy and sell” frenzy to a simple and boring strategy of “buy and hold.” NGPF’s investing unit is spot-on. I also have to give two big shout-outs to (1) Troutwood’s “Buy Sell Hold” app as a powerful way to see that beating the stock market is hard and (2) Personal Finance Club for amazing infographics that gave my students actionable first steps for building wealth. 
  3. A Taste Test - My students blindly sampled name brand food items and their store brand counterparts as part of the Consumer Skills unit. The objective was to determine which product they preferred (based on taste, appearance, smell…) not to try to guess the name brand item. After I revealed the name and store brand items, students calculated unit prices and discussed how their future food purchasing decisions might change based on taste and price. My lesson was inspired by a fellow personal finance teacher, Denise Leigh. 


  • When/how do you know you have gotten an important concept through to your students? Would you like to give an example?

Student impact stories are the biggest indicator of success. From choosing a high yield savings account and setting up automatic transfers to save, to filling out a 1040 to get a refund, to paying a new credit card statement in full, to applying for a scholarship to fund trade school, to investing in a Roth IRA…my students are learning and applying that learning to their lives. I also get a kick out of students introducing me to their friends, “This is Mrs. B. She’s the one who got me on the Credit Karma app that I showed you. You HAVE to take her class next year.”


  • Tell us about your experience with NGPF?

My first NGPF PD was on August 1, 2022, “Beginner Series: Trim Down or Build Up an NGPF Lesson.” Within that first month, I completed lots of PD with NGPF, passed my first certification course on Behavioral Economics with Tim, and taught my first few lessons of the NGPF semester course to my very first group of high school, personal finance students. Yes, you heard that right. This was my first year teaching business classes, mostly personal finance classes to high school students. I taught 7th grade math for 17 years before that! 

I feel incredibly fortunate to have found NGPF in my first year in this role. The PD coupled with the student-centered, 21st century, skill-focused curriculum gave me the knowledge, inspiration, confidence, and resources that I needed to jump right into a new department and new school.


  • Which professional development opportunities have you participated in?

I took full advantage of a variety of NGPF PD. I completed 6 certification courses from August 2022 to February of 2023 earning the Distinguished Educator Award (which is such a beautiful piece of hardware that I have to mention it whenever I get a chance). Between virtual PD, virtual conferences (those are my favorite), and on demand courses, I racked up enough NGPF Academy Credits to earn the Extra Mile Award, a top 1% of participant hours, so yeah, I do quite a bit of PD. I’m now enrolled in Certification Course #7 on Taxes with Daniel!


  • Can you fill us in on an example of how you have incorporated something you learned from a PD session into your lesson plans?

The best part of NGPF PD is the transferability. In Amanda Volz’s Paying for College Certification Course, she shared an activity where students decorate a pennant and include information about their post high school plans - college, career, military, trade school. My students enjoyed being creative, sharing their plans, and seeing their work on display.


  • What NGPF resources are your favorites/do you rely on the most for your lesson planning?

The semester course is my starting point for every lesson, I then use my students’ needs and interests to choose how to configure it and often build it up. Students like the activities: FINE PRINT, MOVE, PLAY…as they allow them to interact with real-world decisions and documents in the safety net of our classroom. One of the most memorable student activities is CREATE: A Salary-Based Budget. Maybe it’s the former math teacher in me loving spreadsheets that drew me in, but the students like it too. I laughed in each class as students truly ENJOYED budgeting, who knew?!


  • What has your experience been with FinLit Fanatics?

FinLit Fanatics is my go-to group for finlit tips, inspiration, and celebration. Collaborating with teachers who are passionate about financial literacy from all over the world is rewarding. My top 3 benefits of this group are:

  • Support at all levels of comfort with finlit education. I was helped with the basics and welcomed as a newbie. I now am giving back to the community by helping other teachers with implementation ideas.
  • Collaboration. I am continually inspired by the teachers who are doing amazing, creative activities with their students. A teacher can post that he needs an additional review for the banking unit and other teachers freely share their resources.
  • Advocacy. I love hearing about the efforts of fellow teachers in guaranteeing financial literacy education for their students and celebrating the success stories!


How have you been involved in advocating for the legislation in Pennsylvania?

Starting in the fall of 2022, I used the knowledge I gained from NGPF PD with the rich resources of the NGPF semester course and the advocacy materials to rework my district’s current personal finance course curriculum, made a plan with my principal to thoughtfully embed 21st century skills into each week’s lessons, and met regularly with the curriculum office to advocate for a standalone personal finance course as a graduation requirement at my high school. Over the course of the school year, I continued to immerse myself in learning by attending professional development with NGPF, local classes, and the Jump$tart National Educator’s Convention while connecting with educators, advocates, and finance professionals across the country who amplified my passion with their knowledge and achievements.I shared parent feedback, statistics showing the need for financial literacy education, student impact stories, student end of course survey results, and takeaways from my own learning. 

In early 2023 there was a post in the FinLit Fanatics group sharing an opportunity to apply to serve on the Pennsylvania Department of Education Academic Standards Committees to review current standards and revise them “to reflect current trends and to ensure concepts related to financial literacy are adequately reflected in state academic standards.” I applied, was accepted, and worked with a group of amazing educators on Pennsylvania’s Standards Revision Committee for Economics with a goal to further embed financial literacy standards. After we made draft recommendations, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education requested another committee be established to craft a set of standalone “Personal Financial Literacy Standards.” This work was completed in June and is in process of being shared with stakeholders for comment and consideration. I’m hoping that these proposed standards and Senate Bill 647 are signs that Pennsylvania might be headed towards guaranteeing financial literacy education for all high school graduates. 

In the spring of 2023, my district’s superintendent, technology manager, communications coordinator, and principal visited my personal finance class on “test day.” While observing a test might typically be boring, this assessment was filled with action and thought-provoking reflection as the students played $TAX at the end of the investing unit. 

A month later, I was asked to speak at a press conference at my high school with Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy DeFoor as part of his tour across the Commonwealth celebrating schools that showed a commitment to financial literacy education. I wrote my speech using NGPF’s advocacy materials and research (State of Financial Education Report for 2023) and student impact stories. A handful of students passionate about financial literacy stood beside me in support and one (Carey who bought the car) shared her personal impact story. A month after that, I was honored to present again at the wrap-up press conference in Harrisburg. “Over the last six weeks, we visited schools that are going above and beyond to prepare their students for the real world,” Auditor General DeFoor continued. “Until legislation is passed, I’m encouraging all schools in Pennsylvania to use these five school districts as an example of how financial literacy education can be incorporated successfully into the school year.”

While wrapping up my first year as a personal finance teacher, I was given amazing news. My district is working on a plan to mandate a standalone personal finance course as a graduation requirement for all students starting next year. With our district’s prioritization of financial literacy and the amazing support of NGPF, what will our community’s financial outlook be in 5 years? 10 years? I’m excited for that future!  


In just one year, Carey has had a huge impact on the students in her community and through her advocacy work, across the state.  She can’t go out to dinner in her community without hearing from former students.  Carey went out just this week and a former 7th grade student of hers spotted her and told her they had heard good things about her class and asked how to get into it.  Then a student from one of her classes this year came out of the kitchen to tell her how important her class had been, and what they were doing with the money they were now earning!  Great work, Carey!

About the Author

Beth Tallman

Beth Tallman entered the working world armed with an MBA in finance and thoroughly enjoyed her first career working in manufacturing and telecommunications, including a stint overseas. She took advantage of an involuntary separation to try teaching high school math, something she had always dreamed of doing. When fate stepped in once again, Beth jumped on the opportunity to combine her passion for numbers, money, and education to develop curriculum and teach personal finance at Oberlin College. Beth now spends her time writing on personal finance and financial education, conducts student workshops, and develops finance curricula and educational content. She is also the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

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