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Personal finance class looks closely at personal values

Pedro Garcia said his parents have taught him that money itself is neutral; it’s how you get it and what you spend it on that matters.

Junior Pedro Garcia has washed cars, sold fruit and done magic tricks to earn money

“I was raised in a culture of respect, hard work and honesty,” said the Northern High School junior. A native of Mexico, Pedro said he grew up washing cars, selling fruit and doing magic tricks to earn money to buy video games. And now that he’s saving for college, he expects to work hard to pay for that.

“I see money as opportunity,” he said. “I do understand how people can see it as a bad thing, but I see it as a neutral element; you can turn it into anything you want. It really depends on your personal values.”

Senior Nadia Groce admits she’s “very impulsive with the money I spend, like on eating out instead of making food at home.” She sees money as female, a sort of ghost-like spirit that hovers over everything. “I see it as a little manipulative, but quiet about it,” Nadia said.

Nearly 100 students in business teacher Brian Johnson’s personal finance class — mostly seniors — are taking an in-depth look at money this semester. As part of that, they are examining how they view money so far.

The goal, Johnson said, was to bring a literary component to the course, which previously was taught solely using a financial education workbook by talk radio’s Dave Ramsey.

When it comes to money, Sam Paradiso is a “very big saver,” she says

During the first semester, the book “The Money Savvy Student” by Adam Carroll was added. For this semester, Johnson was awarded a grant from the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation to purchase copies of  “Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values” by behavioral economist Sarah Newcomb.

Johnson has been teaching personal finance for about a decade. He admitted that adding the literary and artistic components to the class “was way out of my comfort zone.”

“I always used to focus on the math and financial concepts,” he said. “After reading through the kids’ papers, it’s very clear that there is an emotional aspect to how we relate with money.”

Many of the students “really opened up in their narratives and shared very personal stories … too personal to display publicly,” Johnson said. “It is clear that they are already battling with knowing that saving is a good thing while wanting to spend freely, even if that spending is beyond their limits.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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