High school explores options in financial literacy education
By Amelia Spence, Co-Content & Publishing Editor
Many students at VHS are plagued with concerns about becoming financially independent and aware. Where does one learn how to pay their taxes, or what to do about student loans? Such skills are essential, but are often overlooked in teaching curricula.
The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) suggests that students’ financial education should begin in kindergarten and continue through 12th grade. The organization has released standards detailing what this can look like at each grade level.
“Financial education supports students’ academic performance in several subject areas and plays a major role in preparing students for college, career, and a life of financial stability and well-being.” OSPI said.
Vashon High School offers an optional financial algebra elective, but many students forego the class in favor of full-year math classes. This may be partially due to the fact that financial algebra is classified as a Career and Technical Education (CTE) class rather than a math class, meaning it cannot be used to fill the required math slots for graduation requirements.
VHS vice principal and Director of Career and Technical Education Andrew Guss says the school is exploring the possibility of expanding the class.
“[Financial algebra]… has been a growing program over the past several years… there is a certain interest in not just maintaining, but growing financial algebra as either a third or fourth-year math option for all students,” he said.
Guss cited the high school’s smaller size as a contributing factor to the lack of a greater emphasis on financial literacy throughout the school’s general curriculum.
“We’re a high school of around 470… to 500 students, and we have a pretty stable staff, but we can only offer those CTE electives in chunks… it’s a balancing act, and I think we’re good at it… but we’re really in a bind when it comes to how often we can incorporate certain electives,” he said.
Another consideration in determining the form that financial literacy takes in schools is the sensitive nature of financial issues.
“There’s an opportunity for schools to play a larger role in this capacity, and at the same time, how one uses or spends money or saves money is also a very personal matter… we would need to be careful about butting up against something that’s very personal and kind of culturally relevant for each family,” Guss said.
Guss acknowledges that there are faults to the school’s financial literacy education.
“It’s a component of the very legitimate criticisms that students and families will sometimes raise about what is learned in public education… We have the capacity to do so much in the school and we do a lot.” Guss said. “But that’s one side of it, and there’s always going to be… [those who ask] ‘where are my real-life applications? Where are those skills and those things I should know so that if I leave [high school] I don’t feel confused?’”
The financial algebra elective offered by the school is taught by Per Lars Blomgren. The class covers financial topics such as compound interest, mortgages, credit cards, retirement, student loans, and investment, among others.
“I feel like [financial algebra] is one of the most practical and real-life classes that exists.” Blomgren said. “Students should have a sense of financial literacy when they are done with high school and entering either college or life in general.”
He hopes to affect positive change in his students’ lives through teaching the class.
“If I can convince students that they don't need to accept all the student loans that are offered, or that their online credit card payment greatly affects their credit score, or that putting a bit of money away for retirement at a young age earns a ridiculous amount of interest over time… these are things that I am passionate about.” Blomgren said.
This passion extends past educating students about financial literacy; Blomgren hopes that he can help break down the stigma surrounding conversations about money.
“I hope students talk more about money… It's taboo to talk about money in our country, which I think is silly… I am very transparent about showing my finances to the class.” he said.
Another way in which some VHS students have become further versed in financial literacy is through the AP U.S. History class, taught by Heather Miller. Though the topic is not included in the class’s curriculum, the AP test typically takes place several weeks before the end of the school year, leaving Miller with class time to fill with content of her choosing. She allows the students to vote on a topic to spend the time on, and financial literacy has won both years she has offered it.
After the class has chosen financial literacy as the topic, Miller will send out a survey with additional options for students to choose what they want to learn within that discipline, and teach the top three items. The options include subjects such as filing taxes, budgeting, investing and saving, student loans, and insurance. Historically, filing taxes, credit and debit cards and credit scores, and student loans have won.
“I think these skills are important because they typically get overlooked and if they aren't taught in school people have to figure them out on their own when they go out on their own.” Miller said. “...therefore, I want to focus on teaching students the skills that will be applicable to them in the near future.”