The pandemic has changed personal finance education in schools

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(State of Financial Education: Many money problems that Americans face could have been avoided if financial literacy had been taught earlier in school. This knowledge helps create a foundation for students to develop. strong financial habits early on and avoiding many mistakes that lead to a life of financial struggles. This story is part of a series on the current landscape of financial education in this country.)

In March of last year, Regina Watkins and her business training class of eighth graders were in the middle of a stock market game, being part of a personal finance unit, when the coronavirus pandemic took it all. stopped.

“It was like we were going to school on a Friday and we were told it was all going to be far away on Monday,” said Watkins, a teacher at West Lake Middle School in Apex, North Carolina.

After a period of adaptation, the business class was able to resume and virtually end the stock market game. But it wasn’t quite the same.

For one thing, Mike Molitoris, a wealth manager in Cary, North Carolina who volunteered to help teach part of the class for the past few years, was unable to complete the semester because of the pandemic. He has three children of his own, all of whom were suddenly going to virtual school as well.

And, students also typically participate in InvestWrite, a national writing competition offered by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association to schools that play its stock game.

But this year, the shift to distance learning and the timing of the change made it difficult to give students the time they needed, Watkins said.

A change in personal finance education

Personal finance education is a topic that has been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. And, this is an important topic in which students probably don’t already have enough knowledge. At this point, only 21 states require high school students to take a personal finance course, and few require it to be a stand-alone course, instead of being integrated into another course.

In addition, many states offer personal finance education, but it is not mandatory. In 24 states, high schools are required to offer personal finance education, but students are not required to take it.

This means that some educators are already vying for student attention or even participating in their personal finance classes. The pandemic has made the task even more difficult.

“As someone who’s done a ton of virtual classroom tours and talking to teens, you know, you hear so much about the drop in effort and interest,” said Yanely Espinal, Director of Outreach. education at Next Gen Personal Finance.

The virtual school tests

As teachers and students across the country have adjusted, the shift to virtual education has been difficult.

Educators have found that it is more difficult to engage students online, where there are more distractions and ways to escape class, than in person. In addition, virtual schooling highlights the different environments that students experience at home.

“Virtual learning is not at all fair for our children,” said Lionel Hush, principal of Roosevelt Middle School in West Orange, New Jersey. While some children have a quiet space to devote to school, others cannot and may face additional distractions, he said.

And, for the younger students at Hush School, it is more difficult to get kids interested in money on a computer screen.

“This is new to the kids – a lot of our kids don’t have any experience in this area,” Hush said, adding that for many college kids, their personal finance idea can end up getting $ 20 from a parent for it. go to the store.

“Earning their interest is much more difficult in the virtual world,” he said.

Next Gen Personal Finance has worked hard to combat this in their teaching materials, which are used in many schools to teach kids about money. This year, they focused on providing games, resources and tools suitable for a virtual environment for students and teachers.

“As educators, we constantly challenge ourselves to come back to that age and think, what do you think is cool when you’re 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17? Said Espinal. “There are some very interesting subjects, especially in middle and high school. “

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Other activities with older students performed better and matched well with what was happening in real time last year as the stock market crashed and the world came to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It wasn’t difficult teaching personal finance last year,” said Maggie Wohltmann, a business teacher at Livingston High School in Livingston, New Jersey. “When we got to the investment unit, the activities got so fun and engaging.”

She used NextGen Personal Finance’s educational offerings, which she has also done in the past, and found that they were quickly converted for a remote environment.

One game his students particularly enjoyed was playing a game about market timing, using teams and subcommittee rooms and a virtual dice to roll to determine market volatility.

“It was different ways to continue learning,” she said. She was also able to find ways to benefit from distance learning.

“I’ve always wanted guest speakers to come in, but when people physically come to school, it’s a process,” Wohltmann said. “Practically it opened up doors and opportunities that I had never considered, it’s a lot easier for people to zoom in.”

There was another silver liner in the virtual school for Wohltmann. Because she was teaching at home, where her children, fifth-grade twins, were also learning, they started asking her about personal finances, including investing in the stock market.

Now the two children are set up with custodial investment accounts and are investing in certain funds and stocks under parental supervision, Wohltmann said.

“It never would have happened if we hadn’t all been home together,” she said.

Hybrid learning is extra complicated

As the pandemic continues, schools are once again shifting their teaching models to accommodate children and parents. Now, instead of being limited to virtual education, many schools are adopting hybrid models where some students are in class in person and others via video conference from their homes.

Some teachers worry that blended learning has other complications, including personal finance lessons. While virtual learning is not better than having students physically in a classroom, it is difficult to have both – some students in a classroom while others are in video chat, watching from each other. at their home.

“Hybrid education is difficult with students in front of you and students in front of the computer at the same time,” Wohltmann said, adding that it requires everyone’s cooperation.

“I think some learners do better from a distance, but the majority do better in person,” said Wohltmann. “But I’ll be using many of the strategies and takeaways from this year.”

Practically it opened doors and opportunities that I had never considered, it is much easier for people to zoom in.

Maggie Wohltmann

Business Educator, Livingston High School

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