Tolman reflects on success of financial literacy classes

Tolman reflects on success of financial literacy classes

Gov. Dan McKee, center, signs a bill last Wednesday at Tolman High School, making financial literacy a required class for all high school students in R.I.
McKee signs bill making course requirement for all students

PAWTUCKET – Having the opportunity to learn about financial literacy in high school has set up Hanatha Konte for future success, the recent Tolman High School graduate said.

“It came at a point where I really needed it,” when she started working and had to learn about saving money, Konte, who graduated as salutatorian last Friday, told The Breeze. “The classes really broke everything down for me in a way I understood.”

Last Wednesday at Tolman, Gov. Dan McKee signed a bill that will require statewide standards in consumer education in public high schools across the state. Per the legislation, the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education and the Rhode Island Department of Education will be tasked with developing instruction standards on personal finance and consumer economic topics including installment purchasing, budgeting, credit and the law, employment and income, saving, investing, and money management.

“Financial literacy is key to a young person’s future success,” McKee said. “This legislation paves the way for our public high schools to provide young people with the skills they need to achieve their financial goals. It will also help us ensure that every Rhode Island high school student is equipped with tools to prepare them for economic opportunity after graduation.”

Under the new legislation, Tolman Principal Chris Savastano told The Breeze that students will now be required to take financial literacy in order to graduate, so naturally it will be offered to more students than ever before. “I think it’s just incredibly important,” he said, noting that he had to learn these skills by trial and error. “If we can help these kids learn all those lessons and all this terminology before they even leave high school, I think it’s a game changer really.”

McKee was joined last week by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, bill sponsors Deputy Majority Whip Mia Ackerman and Sen. Sandra Cano, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and Cheryl McWilliams, superintendent of Pawtucket schools.

Cano, who leads the Senate Education Committee, noted that the bill “will ensure that our children leave the public school system with a firm and knowledgeable grasp on basic financial concepts that will help them succeed in their adult lives.”

Ackerman said that many young people don’t understand the complexities of credit and debt, “what it means to have a mortgage that’s under water, or how high interest rates can bury them in debt for their entire lives.”

At the news conference, Konte spoke about her experience with the classes at Tolman and why she believes this type of education is vital for high schoolers. “It’s an essential life skill,” she said. “It’s important because … we all get jobs and we think we have money and we can do whatever we want with it, but that’s just not the case.”

Some students don’t go on to college, instead jumping into the workforce, and many don’t have the knowledge about buying houses or getting credit cards. “That can simply be fixed by teaching it in a classroom,” she said, which is “only going to set us up for a better future.”

Konte took classes through the school’s business academy and learned the basics and ins and outs of financial literacy, she said, including about savings accounts, loans, credit and debit cards, how to manage money, how interest builds up, how to do taxes, and more.

She’s grateful for the opportunity to have learned about finances at Tolman, she said. “I’m happy more kids will have the opportunity.”

When asked if she had any advice for her peers, Konte said, “I would say that (these classes are) only going to benefit you. … You’re going to learn about how to live smart. A big part of your future is how you use (and) save your money.” It’s especially important for students who want to be more independent, she added.

If she hadn’t learned about credit in these classes, Konte said she would have signed up for all the credit cards she’s gotten in the mail. “My family is definitely amazed I’m learning about it so young,” she said. “I have saved a lot of money from my job. They’re super surprised I know how to save.”

Tolman leads the way

In her remarks at the conference, McWilliams noted that Tolman High School was an early adopter of financial literacy classes. “This will continue to expand across our high schools and is intended to connect pathways at the middle school level as well,” she said. “We are excited for the strong community partnerships this will foster and know that by expanding these authentic opportunities for students we will also strengthen our local community.”

The program began in 2012 or 2013, Savastano said. When he first arrived at Tolman, he said that Cano was a member of the School Committee and was working for Navigant Credit Union, which had designed a basic financial literacy program for its customers. Cano approached the principal, asking if they could implement the program for high school students, and it really took off as part of the school’s Marketing and Management Academy, Savastano said.

“We just feel it’s so valuable, and the kids do as well,” he said.

Students who graduate from the Marketing and Management Academy receive a certification from EVERFI, and the program graduates about 20 students a year, Savastano said. Tolman has also had students enter the Rhode Island Financial Literacy Challenge, and teams have finished within the top five spots four times so far, he said.

Rob D’Arezzo, director of the Marketing and Management Academy who integrates financial literacy into all of his classes, told The Breeze that this legislation is “one of the best things the Department of Education has put forth for high school students to do.”

D’Arezzo, who was part of the committee that pushed for this bill to pass, said high schoolers are at the age when they usually get their first job. “I think it’s important for them to know what has to be done with their money before they go and spend it on things they don’t really need.”