Thirty high school teachers representing counties from across the state are gathering at Campbell University’s Lundy-Fetterman School of Business this week to learn innovative ways to teach financial literacy and economic education in their respective schools. The workshop — born from a partnership between the University and the North Carolina Council on Economic Education — aims to help teachers meet recent state mandates requiring students to receive a passing grade in this area in order to graduate.
“We are so delighted that North Carolina is embracing this,” said Dr. Mark Hammond, vice president for academic affairs and provost at Campbell, in his greeting on Day 1 of the five-day workshop. “As an institution of higher education, we require certain competencies in our students, and in the last couple of years, ensuring financial literacy has become an accreditation standard we have to address. So to have students coming in to North Carolina colleges and universities who have some fundamental understanding of economics and finances as a formal part of their education is really important. It’s consistent with what we strive for and must do with our students as well.”
The workshop gives teachers both a refresher course and new information on government and economic systems, cost and benefits of trade, building wealth and training students for high-demand jobs in finance. Teachers earn a professional development certificate and receive access to lesson plans and digital resources for attending.
First-year Lakewood High School (Sampson County) teacher and 2017 Campbell history graduate Kenly Stewart is one of the 30 teachers on campus this week. He sees the workshop as an opportunity to get his students interested in topics that are often difficult to get high school-aged teens to engage with.
“I loved the economics and business courses I took with Dr. Mark Steckbeck when I was an undergrad at Campbell,” Stewart said. “I hope these new resources — from podcasts to online games — help me teach students how to think like economists. Dr. Steckbeck taught me economics was a field that deals with much more than just money or the stock market. Fundamentally, economics provides a way of thinking and asking questions about the choices we make as both individuals and society.
“My students are already asking such questions. I just need to make them aware they are, in many ways, already thinking like economists.”
Stewart, who teaches social studies at Lakewood in a classroom he says is very much filled with Campbell memorabilia and merchandise, said he thinks teaching financial literacy is important to help them not only prepare for college or whatever road they travel after graduation, but also live “happy, joy-filled lives.”
“Grandiose as it might sound, financial literacy will help students avoid or lower anxiety, and in doing so, help them elevate their souls by giving them the freedom to wrestle with life’s biggest questions,” Stewart said. “Financial literacy, like everything else I teach, is about giving my students the tools and knowledge to pursue meaningful lives.”
According to the government-funded website, youth.gov, a recent survey of 15-year-olds in the U.S. found that 18 percent did not know fundamental financial skills often applied in everyday situations — from building a simple budget to comparison shopping and understanding an invoice. High school seniors scored an average of 48 percent on financial literacy exams, and only 27 percent of teens knew what inflation was or could do simple interest rate calculations.
Also, the average debt of students when they graduated college rose from just over $18,000 in 2004 to nearly $29,000 in 2014.
Harnett Central High School teacher Natasha Sell — who along with Winston-Salem social studies teacher Amber Sluder — called her previous experience with the economic education workshop “the best professional development that I have been to in 20 years.”
“The amount of resources this provides [and] the amount of hands-on activities this provides, it was so useful for my students,” Sell said. “I’ve had students email me asking, ‘can you send me that budgeting spreadsheet we did in class, because I’d like to use that in real life?’ For teachers, this stuff is really applicable in class.”