2014-12-11 / Around Town

Local Schools Prioritize Financial Literacy

By Tom Walsh

Although Rhode Island ranks near the bottom of states in delivering financial literacy instruction to students in grades K-12, both Rogers High School and Middletown High School include it as part of high school mathematics classes.

“Our 12th-grade curriculum in discreet mathematics deals with financial literacy,” said Gail Abromitis, Middletown High principal. She said many 12th grade students take the course, which is organized as a half year of financial literacy and a half year of college algebra.

At Rogers, students are offered a full-year consumer math course in partnership with BankNewport. “Students learn everything from budgeting their money to loans, mortgages, paying bills, credit cards and the stock market,” said Jennifer Booth, Ed. D., assistant superintendent for Newport schools.

“It’s a very positive program,” added Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

According to the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., the financial crisis and recession of 2007 “exposed behaviors that indicate low levels of financial literacy across the nation. Many people purchased homes they could not afford using unsound financial products they did not understand. As a result, mortgage defaults, foreclosure rates, personal credit defaults and bankruptcy rates reached near record highs.”

To avert that outcome in the future, the center maintains, we must improve the nation’s level of financial literacy. “A great place to start is with our K-12 students,” they concluded, with high school-age students “the best and most logical place to deliver financial instruction.”

Rhode Island is one of 11 states that received an “F” grade in financial literacy last year from the center. The organization’s National Report Card on high school financial literacy instruction also gave Massachusetts and Connecticut F grades. Another 11 states were rated D, including Maine and Vermont. New Hampshire earned a B.

Rhode Island did seem to take a step forward on this issue just last month when the Rhode Island Council for Elementary and Secondary Education endorsed the Council for Economic Education’s national standards for financial literacy.

That places Rhode Island alongside Florida, Alabama and Oklahoma endorsing the council’s standards as a foundation for financial literacy education. These standards focus on earning income, buying goods and services, using credit, saving, financial investing, and protecting and insuring. Following these principles can help young people make wise financial choices.

And, the drumbeat for financial literacy instruction grew louder in Rhode Island on Dec. 6 at a wellattended financial capability conference at Rhode Island College.

Abromitis said Middletown's financial literacy students, mostly seniors, seem to enjoy the class. One especially useful aspect of the pro- gram for college-bound students involves learning about setting up student loans.

However, she said, the program also benefits those who are not college bound. “Students who don’t go on to college learn about paying bills—rent, utilities, phones, what employers take out of your paycheck.” For some of them, she said, it’s an awakening to learn they may need a roommate to help with some of those costs.

“It’s really a lesson in life,” Abromitis said. At the moment, she added, there are no plans to make financial literacy a stand-alone course at Middletown High. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t consider it in the future,” she noted.

In Newport, Booth recalled when her own daughter was a college freshman. “She was flooded with credit card offers." “What a thing that can be if they’re not familiar with them.”

She said the Rogers financial literacy program is comprised mostly of seniors, although it is not restricted to those students. She said the consumer math course is a graded class and counts toward graduation. She added the full-year course includes a new media component aimed at today’s digital students.

“We try to offer whatever the kids need to achieve financial literacy,” Booth said. “And, part of the financial literacy piece at Rogers is to teach financial responsibility. That is, learning when to say no. Kids need to understand the financial consequences of paying 18 percent on a credit card.”

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