Article by Jeff Cataldo, Kent School
From the March/April 2018 Net Assets magazine
Over the last 10 years or so, we at Kent School have been thinking hard about how we can bring applied learning to our traditional liberal arts curriculum. We want to offer students the opportunity to acquire different skills, and the areas we’ve focused on most are engineering and business, including financial literacy. Students are invited to attend a series of lectures after the academic day, usually in the evening, which introduce them to basic yet important topics. Both programs are in high demand.
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For about four years, I have lectured on financial literacy topics. I do a few lectures each term. We cover banking, savings and checking accounts, lending, applying for a car loan and mortgage, what it means to have and manage debt, how interest impacts debt. We take time to discuss the importance of a credit rating and building a credit history and also the importance of saving. Students learn how to manage a personal budget against personal cash flow and use that to build a savings plan, whether for a rainy day or particular purchase or important event, such as continuing education, a child’s education, retirement, and the like.
Banking basics lead to more complex topics like investments, investing cash savings into various asset classes, interest rates. Depending on students’ interest, we may go into more detail on starting a business, accounting concepts, raising capital or introductory economics: supply and demand, what interest rates really mean, how they affect the economy.
There is a strong desire to study these concepts in more detail. Any student is welcome to attend the lectures, but each class is limited to 50 students, and classes fill up. We are in the process of building out our academic curriculum, creating two trimester-long elective classes on financial literacy and economics. We’ve even hired a part-time instructor, a retired investment banker, who wants to help high school students discover business entrepreneurship.
For me, the most interesting part of the program is walking through the importance of building a personal budget and the value of tracking that budget, the real-life benefits. These are skills that will last a lifetime, even if a student isn’t interested in finance and business. The kids enjoy the budgeting work, but they seem most interested in investments and how to make money.
I think parents would like to see us doing even more, going deeper into the benefits of being financially literate. In discussions with prospective families, I’ve noticed very strong interest in what we’re doing. That feels good, but we must be careful and remind ourselves that this is high school. We must continue to improve the traditional liberal arts curriculum as well, which is so important for college preparation. We need to maintain the correct balance.
I’ve never been a teacher in a school, but before coming to Kent, I worked in the corporate world in different roles, and I would often be an instructor for trainings. As a treasurer, for example, I was responsible for most financial concerns, and would structure or deliver trainings related to cash and debt management, capital management, etc. I enjoy teaching even more now. High school students have more genuine excitement about these topics. They’re far more interested, which makes it more rewarding for me.
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