Financial literacy courses pay off

Collaborating with students, teachers, administrators and the board is key when adding personal finance to STEM curricula—and graduation requirements
By: | February 20, 2020
(Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash)(Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash)
Chris Rau is principal of Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, Connecticut. 

Chris Rau is principal of Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, Connecticut.

Across the country, there is a growing move to require a semester-long course in personal finance in K-12 districts. Many teachers in the U.S. see the importance of the subject and are looking for ways to increase enrollment.

As a high school administrator, I am continuously challenged to improve our crowded curriculum, and the demands for specific subjects are intense. It’s no wonder personal finance has an uphill battle with school boards.

Balancing costs and student needs

One of our teachers, Barbara Angelicola-Manzolli, championed this class at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, Connecticut. Recently, we became the fourth high school in America to meet Next Gen Personal Finance’s Gold Standard Challenge graduation requirement.


Read: Why financial literacy is gaining ground in K-12


Over the past decade, Barbara had become a passionate advocate, learning all she could from free online materials, including the curriculum and professional development offered by NGPF. She even took part in a podcast in which she shared her favorite lessons and how she incorporates morals, values and ethics into her course.

And yet, for nearly a decade, we worried about needing to hire another teacher, the cost of books and other issues. How could we add personal finance with all the other business courses our limited faculty members were already shouldering?

Paying attention to feedback

What finally convinced me to join Barbara’s cause was our students. Each year, I sit with them to discuss the academics at our school, focusing on what works and what could be improved. It was an eye-opening experience. Senior after senior voiced support for the personal finance course Barbara taught. They felt it was an important topic. Many truly believed that it was the most important course they took during their high school careers.

I have always known that basic financial literacy is important, but I was not sure it should be mandated for all students. We have tried to give students as much choice as possible in what they study and not create more mandates.


Read: High school students like math they can use


Revising graduation requirements

The student feedback convinced me we should add a personal finance requirement. A recent district initiative to build STEM skills opened the door, and personal finance became a natural fit. When we approached our board of education with revised graduation requirements for the Class of 2023, the decision was made to include the class as a mandatory one-half credit. The board backed the decision unanimously.

A recent district initiative to build STEM skills opened the door, and personal finance became a natural fit.

Barbara has always been a wonderful advocate for her department and was always willing to engage in discussions about the best way to make this work. Overall, it was a collaborative process among our teachers, administrators and the board—one that I feel will benefit the Class of 2023 and beyond.


Chris Rau is principal of Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, Connecticut.