Teaching today’s students how to prosper as adults
Rhinelander High School students are facing a very different financial future than their parents, and many of their teachers. Beyond the statistics that link post-high school education and income, students will be making decisions early in their working lives that will affect their ability to retire one day. To one Rhinelander teacher, that’s a call to action.
“The price of ignorance is higher today, when it comes to financial security,” according to business teacher Patrick Kubeny. “The emphasis on retirement saving has shifted from government and employers to employees.”
Not only will it be up to these students to make wise investment decisions, but they will need to avoid the plethora of traps along the way, made more common today thanks to technology.
“Easy -to-get credit cards, internet scams and online shopping, to name a few. If you get stuck in one of these traps,” Kubeny said, “you may be dealing with tightened bankruptcy laws which make financial recovery very, very difficult.” It’s a complex subject, financial literacy. But one that high school administrators and the school board agreed last spring is important enough to take the curriculum a step further.
Kubeny instructs one of two courses that will fulfill a new graduation requirement for students beginning with this year’s sophomore class; the other option being economics. The class begins with students taking personal assessments, and best-guessing their future selves. This can be a wakeup call for some.
“These kids learn that decisions they make regarding whether to go to college, when to get married and what career path they follow really matter,” Kubeny says. “I see them making changes in their plans and lives, sometimes immediately.”
Then the class digs into saving, investing, making big purchases. Following a “do as I do” philosophy, Kubeny teaches students by using his own investment mistakes and triumphs as examples. The majority of the seats in his classes are filled with high school juniors. These students, he says, are at a crucial point in their lives, where just a few dollars a week invested wisely can add up to a meaningful sum down the road.
“These kids have jobs, they’re getting paychecks, driving, paying for insurance,” he said. “It’s the perfect time for them to learn good saving habits, and delayed gratification. Once they see that time is on their side when it comes to investing money, they are eager to learn.”
And Kubeny is equally eager to teach, and share his passion for the subject matter. When asked whether over indulgent parents and grandparents are perhaps undoing his work, the finance teacher is on his way to a shelf in the back of the classroom before the question is even complete. Carrying several well worn, dog-eared books that he seems to have memorized, Kubeny explained that he and his wife use these books to teach their own children about money.
“It can start with something as simple as feeding ‘Penny the Pig’, which is a lesson for younger children,” he said. “My kids had piggy banks with four slots and they decided how much money to save, spend, donate to charity, and invest.”
High school seniors Mike Anderson, Brendan McGuire and Megan Haug can vouch for their teacher’s enthusiasm. As four year members of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), of which Kubeny is an advisor, the three club officers are credited for the success of the growing co-curricular organization, which saw several students reach the state and then national competitions.
“It isn’t all about competition,” according to club President Anderson, who intends to pursue a finance degree. “We take field trips, usually where we learn something, but it’s just fun.” In addition to investing and finance, FBLA students focus on community service projects, and fundraising. This year the club is introducing DECA as part of the organization. This adds a “soft skills” component to the competitions, like marketing and public speaking. “I think the future will see growing numbers of participants,” McGuire said, “and leadership opportunities.”
“I don’t know what I want to major in yet,” said Vice President Haug, “But I am learning things that I can use in everyday life, too. There are lots of opportunities to meet other students and network.”
The FBLA students run the school Spirit Shop, and two students work at the student branch of Ripco Credit Union, both located in the school commons area. While Kubeny says he would like the students to have more direct contact with local businesses, there are several in town, like Ripco that are providing real life opportunities already. For Ripco President Liza Edinger, creating and nurturing financial capability is tied to the financial wellness of the community.
“We feel strongly that it is important for people to be knowledgeable about how money works so that they are capable of making sound financial decisions,” Edinger says. “People aren’t born with an understanding of money, so they need to learn how to stay out of financial trouble. Even people who aren’t chasing wealth and don’t consider themselves materialistic will have a better life – a less stressful life – if they are financially capable. When “life happens,” those who are prepared can carry on.”
For Kubeny, his students’ investment futures may be different from their parents; but if he has his way, they will be even better. “How the subject is presented matters,” he said. “Like with a bowl of fruit, one of my favorite analogies, we have to cut it up, make it look appetizing, and they’ll eat it up. And it’s good for them, too.”