When Kent City High School senior Ginger Weeks heads off to college next fall, she’ll be thinking about things like renters insurance, checking accounts and credit cards. She may have an edge, because at Kent City, now there’s a class for that.
Ginger, 18, was among students who this year are getting a taste of a new class on personal finance that, beginning with the class of 2017, will be a requirement for graduation. The new class, approved by the Kent City Community Schools board in March, is based on popular radio financial guru Dave Ramsey’s “Foundations in Personal Finance.”
The new class takes the place of the current consumer math class, “which is the typical stuff that schools have been teaching for too long,” Kent City Superintendent Mike Weiler said. “We decided if we were going to continue down that path of practical math, it should be something that really benefits kids.”
The new class teaches the basics of balancing a checkbook, creating and sticking to a budget and cautions about going into debt, among other concepts. School leaders say it only makes sense to teach the specifics of something that’s really a basic survival skill and important to daily life.
“At first I thought our teacher was just being simple, but these are things a lot of people don’t understand,” Ginger said. “There are people on college campuses selling credit cards, and I didn’t know they could do that. I was, like, is that even legal?”
The two-semester class will require seniors earn one additional credit for graduation, raising the total from 21 credits to 22. Kent City joins Rockford Public Schools in Kent County, which last year approved a similar requirement for graduation.
Experts applaud the move toward financial literacy, saying too often students receive very little training about personal finance, or information that’s downright wrong.
“We work a lot with individual teachers by request, about 40 presentations last year, but what we can provide is just a sliver,” said Matt Cook, director of community relations for Lake Michigan Credit Union. “It’s helpful, but the problem is that it’s an hour-and-a-half, just a nugget of information as opposed to these classes that are really diving into it.”
Teacher Trafford Adams said his plans are to expand on the Ramsey curriculum, spending more time working with students on the actual math and process of balancing a checkbook, for instance. Students say the class has immediate relevance for them, with one calling it “the one class I can actually use.”
♥The Ramsey curriculum teaches that learning financial discipline at an early age helps set a healthy “money personality” that’s likely to carry on into adulthood. Experts say that’s a worthy goal, given the number of otherwise intelligent people who run into trouble over personal finances.
“Sometimes they get a tough life lesson after making the wrong decision,” Cook said. “When someone comes in asking for a loan to pay off other loans, well, you can’t really do that.”