“I’m glad I learned about parallelograms instead of how to do my taxes,” a sign in Caroline Lundeen’s classroom reads. “It’s really come in handy this parallelogram season.”
The poster cheekily hits home what teachers and students say: Learning about money in high school is essential.
“Teaching about money is really fun because every kid cares,” Lundeen said. “I can get every kid, even the kids who say, ‘I hate school, it’s not relevant,’ engaged. I say, ‘Well, you’ll need to know what a credit card is.’”
It’s Lundeen’s second year teaching Intro to Business and Finance and Business and Finance 2 at Jackson Hole High School. She previously worked in the industry at a financial news company called Street Account.
“I liked it, but it was very solitary work,” Lundeen said. “It was an office where you were on your computer looking at news so it wasn’t like dealing with 90 high schoolers a day. It was a very large shift in terms of being social, but I love it. I feel very lucky.”
Lundeen student-taught French classes before interviewing for a French teacher job with Teton County School District No. 1. But after she mentioned her background in finance, the district opened a position and she accepted it.
In the fall, students learn the basics of economics: what money is, why it exists, how it gets managed, what inflation is, how supply and demand work and what the U.S. Federal Reserve does. In the spring, class is all about personal finance: budgeting, banking, investing and credit.
“Sometimes it’s not the most interesting of information,” Lundeen said. “But it’s super, super relevant for them. I think it’s the most relevant for seniors because they’re aware that they’ll be soon be getting kicked out of the nest.”
Students in Lundeen’s Intro to Business and Finance class were busy last week creating goods to sell at a holiday market. The room was abuzz with conversations as business plans, marketing strategies and advertisements were fleshed out.
Sophomores Alma Moreno, 15, Montse Delgado-Rosales, 16, and Ashley Corona, 15, came up with the idea to sell slime, a trend you might be aware of if you have kids. Made popular through social media videos on apps like Instagram, it’s something the girls know kids like to play with.
“We all have little brothers and we know they waste their money in slime,” Moreno laughed.
Their classmates made a variety of crafts, from wreaths and cabins made of Popsicle sticks to coasters with ink designs on them.
Sophomore Leo Otanez, 16, said he opted to take the elective because he thought the practical knowledge could pay off.
“It’s really useful, unlike some other classes,” he said. “Learning about cells and stuff like that is fun, but I don’t really think I’d use it a lot.”
Other students agreed.
“It’s important to know all the stuff we’re learning about in life,” said Julian Tonkin, 15.
Jack Carney, 16, said, “There’s a real-world application.”
But if financial literacy classes are begged for by students, why aren’t they more common around the country?
“There aren’t very many states that require personal finance as a graduation requirement,” Lundeen said. “So it’s actually not as common as one might think it should be. I came in because students really wanted it.”
According to a 2016 survey on the state of kindergarten through 12th grade economic and financial education conducted by the Council for Economic Education, only 20 states require high school students to take a course in economics, and only 17 states require high school students to take a course that incorporates personal finance. Of those 17, five require a stand-alone course to graduate.
Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy uses national data to grade all 50 states on their efforts to produce financially literate high school graduates. Wyoming was given a D grade — in good company with 26 states that received grades of C, D or F.
Lundeen hopes to take financial literacy to the next level in Jackson by having her students run a school store, which could open this spring, to get hands-on experience. She also wants to start a club, Future Business Leaders of America, and would like the district to consider having the class become a requirement.
Lundeen thinks what she teaches aligns perfectly with the school district’s Success 2022 goal of students being life ready when they graduate.
“How you can be life ready without being financially literate?” she asked. “How can you go into life not knowing how to make a budget, not knowing how to save your money, not knowing what a 401(k) is? If our goal is to have students be life ready, then they have to understand at least a few things about finances. I personally can’t think of any information that would be more useful.”