As a 12th grade teacher at Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello High School, I can attest that many of my students work harder than most people I know. My students come to school every day and then work long hours after they finish their classes. Over 80% of my students are recent immigrants and English is their second language, so they must learn a new language and new cultural norms in addition to their other school and personal responsibilities. The socio-economic level of many of my students creates an urgent need for economic literacy. For my young students, financial education is the crucial steppingstone they need to future financial freedom and stability for themselves and future generations.
My biggest motivation as a teacher has become giving my students social and economic mobility. I have always implemented economic concepts into my civics classes, but I was thrilled when Personal Financial Literacy was added to Montbello’s curriculum last year and I was asked to lead the program. I believe economic literacy is necessary for my students to make informed decisions for their lives, and it has become a privilege for me to work with them on financial education. Many Montbello students are already in the workforce, so they have natural buy-in and interest in topics like tax returns, pay stubs, W2 forms, and other relevant concepts they encounter.
To me, the most important lesson for my students to learn is about opportunity costs. Even though it is an economic concept, good decision-making skills are helpful in every area of life. Decision-making can be incorporated into every subject, and the sooner students can understand these concepts, the sooner they will begin making informed decisions. I have even started the conversation with my own kindergartner at home because it is never too soon to educate children and students about the cost of good and bad decisions.
The programs through Economic Literacy Colorado have also been an immensely helpful resource in my teaching of personal finance and economics. My students particularly enjoy participating in the Stock Market Experience, and I love teaching about investing with stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. With the SME, my students get the chance to compete with each other and with other classrooms across Colorado. Interactive activities like the SME promote student camaraderie and interest that continues beyond the classroom.
In my civics classes, I teach about the economic principles of historical events and how they impacted the outcome of history. The most rewarding aspect of teaching is when I step back and listen to my students engage in discussion, using economic principles to evaluate their perspectives on history. In these moments, my students are truly understanding the impact of economics.
Many of the students in my classes do not begin the school year with ambitious dreams about their careers. Instead, there is a degree of uncertainty and insecurity about their future. Once my students gain confidence in finances and economics, they begin to discover their own professional goals and actually believe they can achieve them. Many of the students in my classes are entrepreneurs at heart because they were raised by small business owners in immigrant communities. My goal as an educator is to unlock this potential and give my students the tools they need to make their professional dreams a reality.
I believe there may be a gap with economic literacy in the public-school system. Other teachers I know feel intimidated to teach economics because they have outdated curriculum or do not know how to effectively engage students. I always recommend programs like Economic Literacy Colorado because they offer great content for teachers who may not be trained in economics. Even if economics or financial literacy classes are not in the school curriculum, there are easy ways to implement the concepts into other subjects.
As I mentioned previously, the building blocks of economics are opportunity costs and decision-making. I encourage educators across Colorado, of any subject, to find ways to incorporate financial education with their students. This helps students to think for themselves and weigh their choices, because those tools will stay with students long after graduation and impact almost every future circumstance in their lives.
Bryon Searing is a 12th grade teacher for DCIS at Montbello High School and has been teaching social studies for 14 years. This is his 6th year serving Denver Public Schools and his first year teaching certified Personal Financial Literacy courses.