Northwestern students learn to manage money

State grants are helping students at Northwestern High School get an education they'll use the rest of their lives. Last week, as the governor's cabinet made its way through the Northland, Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Lon Robert...

From left, Wisconsin Financial Institutions Secretary Lon Johnson and Maple educators, Sara Croney, Mark Carlson, Jody Forsythe and Ryan Teal pose for a photo after an hour-long discussion on Northwestern High School financial literacy curriculum. Shelley Nelson
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State grants are helping students at Northwestern High School get an education they'll use the rest of their lives.

Last week, as the governor's cabinet made its way through the Northland, Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Lon Roberts took the opportunity to learn more about how the money is being put to use from the educators delivering the curriculum.

"I tell them it's the most important class they will have," said Northwestern High School social studies teacher, Ryan Teal. "You will have to deal with it at some point, whether you want to or not. They're going to want to more than not."

After all, the required nine-week course gives students the opportunity to be financially literate - they learn how to manage their money.

Teal said he starts out the course with a pre-test, then they teach the concepts and a life-skills component allows students to apply what they've learned.


"Everything you read about in the papers is true," Teal said. "They know very, very little with that pre-test."

During the course, students learn about budgeting, credit cards, the impact their career choice has on their finances, and even learn to shop.

"I think one of the best comments I've ever gotten was a student who said she had to go home and thank her parents," said Jody Forsythe, a marketing teacher. "She never realized they had to pay for all this other stuff ... realizing that is really, really important at that age."

Teal said one of the eye-opening experiences for students is the life skills portion of the class, when students learn everything from finding a bank to buying a house, and even buying groceries, with a surprising cost of $400-$500.

"You're not going to buy a pallet of ramen so you can afford a big house and a Corvette later in life," Teal said.

Using technology, students learn how to find a bank, buy insurance, a car, a home, he said.

Teal said the grant allowed the school to update books and buy additional technology to supplement the course.

"You're never too young to start learning about financial literacy," Forsythe said. She said by saving money now, students learn they are going to help themselves in the future.


Roberts asked Northwestern educators about incorporating an initiative that is being developed to address student loan debt. He said the goal of the program is to help students make the right decisions about higher education and incurring debt to invest in that education.

"The purpose of this is not to address some of the headline stuff you read about, existing debt," Roberts said. "It's to try to make students who are going to graduate from high school, as they make their decisions about higher education, going through a process that leads them to a right decision - not just how to fill out the financial aid form or scholarship forms ... you can think of this as a preventative type of event."

After all, a variety of factors - such as not earning a degree - can affect the ability to repay that debt.

Teal said it's already difficult to get everything in during the nine-week course during the 85-minute classroom sessions, but educators agreed it is valuable information for students to learn.

Administrator Sara Croney said that might be a good option for high school counselors when they are talking to students about financial aid packages.

Mark Carlson of Northwestern said they did have financial aid counselors from area universities talk to the students last year.

"You have to have debt," said Peggy Janigo of Northwestern High School. "There's a lot of parents of my generation that can't afford to hand the kids all the money to put them through school because we've worked hard all our lives just to pay our bills."

Janigo said while her husband has been a teacher for the last 20 years, his student loan has only been paid off for three or four years, and with the cost of college, there are few other options for paying for education.


"We're trying to do a little piece of a very big issue," Roberts said. He said by the end of September, the Department of Financial Institutions hopes to launch a website to help parents and students navigate the waters and figure out what the costs will be for borrowing for education.

Forsythe said the benefit for students coming from the financial literacy course is being able to determine their own financial journey.

"The students are fairly overwhelmed with all the things they have to deal with, that their parents have to deal with above and beyond a 40-, 50-hour work week," Teal said. "The end result is they've created a budget with all these line items, fixed and variable expenses, and on the last day, they have to balance that budget."

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