East Tennessee high school students learn financial literacy

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Tennessee continues to earn top marks for the state’s efforts to teach financial literacy in high school. Over the last five years, Tennessee has earned mostly As from the Center for Financial Literacy.

It all starts in the classroom.

As many adults struggle with money management, states like Tennessee are making schools teach students about personal finance. Since we use money all the time, financial literacy is an important aspect of life, especially when you’re young.

Laura Davis teaches personal finance to seniors at West High School. The course is required for all Tennessee high school seniors to graduate.

“Never, never, never give personal information in an email. No one is ever going to send you an email where you have to put sensitive information in it,” Davis told her class.

Topics cover not only immediate life lessons on how to avoid being scammed, but lifelong lessons on managing debt and budgeting, how to invest money, and how federal roles protect credit if your identity is stolen.

“If someone gets my credit card, I don’t have to pay all the bills that they rack up. They probably put up a big bill. I don’t want to pay for that,” said student David Grubb.

Davis says students do listen and are showing progress in that they’re learning the fundamentals of credit protection.

“We’re going to talk about what laws protect you if you are a victim of identity theft or credit fraud, what laws protect you in that aspect,” Davis said to her class.

Despite the dry subject, no one’s attention wavered. As students break up into small groups, they discuss and debate what they’ve learned. It’s an engaging class. 

“It teaches us how to be adults really. What this does is teach us how to use our money wisely. That’s very important,” said Grubb. “[Many adults] don’t know how to use money that well. They could probably use this class too.”

Tennessee has made financial literacy lessons a priority for students even before some of them are old enough to get a job.

“Even now, so many of them are turning 18 during the school year. They start making these financial decisions. A lot of them work, some even work full time,” said Davis.

Do young people or adults know how to manage money? Recent statistics are not encouraging. About 63 percent of the nation’s residents could not pass a basic financial literacy quiz, but they didn’t quiz these West High School students.

“This is just stuff we have not been exposed to before. I don’t know if I would have taken this class had it not been required,” said student Sloan Newton.

The lessons learned in this personal finance class will soon be tested as these young people graduate next month and go out into the world.

“This is something that they will truly use, every piece of this course for the rest of their lives,” Davis said.

Personal finance training for high school teachers is taught throughout the year, generally during the summer, by staff at the UT Extension Service in Knoxville. Davis says it is an intense course, as high school instructors are given lots of information and suggestions on ways to make their classes interesting.

Other subjects taught include saving and investing money, and everything from health insurance to car insurance.

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