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One Teacher’s Challenge

This post originally appeared on the Department of Treasury blog .

It’s that time of year again, when spring is in the air, the cherry blossoms are about to bloom, high school seniors everywhere have senioritis and students in all 50 states are preparing for the National Financial Capability Challenge Exam. This year’s Challenge begins today and will run through April 8. I am blogging today to inspire my colleagues in the greater sense – educators, administrators, students and family members throughout America – to get involved in the financial literacy movement and encourage your students to take the exam.

“Why,” you ask? “What’s in it for me?” Well, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that the poor financial decisions of average consumers played a role in the recent financial crisis. The time has come when it is not enough to graduate from high school with the ability to read and write and perform basic math operations and survive in a financially sophisticated world. If we do not want to repeat the economically crippling mistakes of the last few years, it is imperative that we equip our children with a financial education. Without a good understanding of how to effectively manage their money, even our best students have little chance of surviving in an increasingly complex financial world, and we don’t just want our kids to survive, we want them to thrive!

Last year, I had several gifted students who had never taken a personal finance class take the Challenge Exam, just to see how they fared. These brilliant members of Stonewall Jackson High School’s senior class quickly discovered that they were leaving the comfort and security of their parents’ homes to make their way in an economically-driven world without a financial education. As one student put it, “I have straight A’s, I am graduating in the top of my class, and I just found out that I know nothing about how to manage my money!” This student was lucky. He discovered he was not financially savvy before his first credit card offer came in the mail or his first phishing scam was delivered to his e-mail account.

Now, I realize that the Obama Administration uses the exam to assess learning and their online tools and resources can be used to prepare students for the Challenge as part of your curriculum, as an extended learning assignment, as extra credit, or as a self-study for individual students who want to learn to make smart financial choices. But the exam is equally effective in gauging what our kids don’t know about money management. When students discover that they truly know very little about savings, earnings, investments, insurance, fraud, and loans, it motivates them to obtain financial skills.

I am challenging educators in every state, no matter what discipline you teach to sign up for the National Financial Capability Challenge and have your students take the exam. Do it as a department project, a school improvement initiative, or as a district-wide study to learn how prepared or unprepared your students are to navigate their financial futures. The school with the most participation wins! “Wins what?” you ask. Wins the honor of caring the most about the financial future of their kids. Let the Challenge begin!

Terri Carson is a High School Business Educator at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, Virginia.

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