Pay days: Cocalico High students learn managing money not child’s play

By on November 24, 2015

 

Wrapped across the back wall of Lyndon Engle’s classroom at Cocalico High School, a series of superhero posters warn about the lurking dangers of credit card debt, student loan borrowing, and predatory pay day loans.

For students in a financial literacy class there, the topics aren’t child’s play. Learning how to manage money wisely at a young age can develop into lifelong skills or inspire a career.

Photos by Kimberly Marselas From left, seniors Chloe Lucky, Amanda Enck, and Claire Wickenheiser prepare a video explaining the risks and benefits of investing in bonds.

Photos by Kimberly Marselas
From left, seniors Chloe Lucky, Amanda Enck, and Claire Wickenheiser prepare a video explaining the risks and benefits of investing in bonds.

The district launched the course as a senior elective this fall, providing a final opportunity for students to learn about everything from resume writing to filing taxes to investment basics.

“We really learned to start saving young,” says Claire Wickenheiser, who was making a video about the benefits of buying bonds during a recent class. “Before this course I thought I could wait until I was around 30.”

Throughout the course, Engel sought to supply real-world examples and give students information they could use sooner rather than later.

He had them calculate how much they should save in an emergency fund at age 18, the years immediately after college and at age 35.

He had them watch parts of Oprah Winfrey’s now-famous “Debt Diet series,” which helped them see how they might prioritize spending in years to come.

He taught them to pay themselves first by saving and investing.

Business teacher Lyndon Engle-holding a piggy bank brought in by a guest speaker-is teaching a new financial literacy course for Cocalico High School seniors. Many students say they will be better savers because of the class.

Business teacher Lyndon Engle-holding a piggy bank brought in by a guest speaker-is teaching a new financial literacy course for Cocalico High School seniors. Many students say they will be better savers because of the class.

He also taught them to think critically about borrowing: to take as little as possible even when a lender — especially a student loan company — is willing to give more.

“The things I teach, I wish I had some of that when I was a kid,” says Engle, who also teaches a freshman personal finance course and economics.

Engle created the course according to state standards, but there is no textbook. Instead, students use real-life tools available to any adult to complete assignments. They typically email their work and presentations to Engle.

Guest speakers included a State Farm agent and a local financial advisor.

For a lesson on housing costs, Engle had students choose a career and the commensurate salary, then determine how and where they could live paying the recommended 30 percent of salary toward housing expenses. Living at home was not an option, and students also had to afford a car payment or mass transit pass.

“The lights really went on as to what they’d be dealing with,” says Engle. “Most of them realized they’d be living with roommates.”

Students also learned about equity in a real-time exercise: they browsed local home listings, then chose one to buy. Using a spreadsheet, students compared what would happen to their payments and equity if they put down 5, 10 or 20 percent, and if they took out a 15-year mortgage vs. a 30-year mortgage.

From left, students John Landis, Langston Allen, DJ Fabiani, Wyatt Witenski, and Val Reisig share their favorite takeaways, including learning how to file a tax return and how capital gain taxes and dividend payments influence investment decisions.

From left, students John Landis, Langston Allen, DJ Fabiani, Wyatt Witenski, and Val Reisig share their favorite takeaways, including learning how to file a tax return and how capital gain taxes and dividend payments influence investment decisions.

The exercise was a course highlight for Wyatt Witenski, who rolled over his initial investment in a fixer-upper into two future, upscale purchases. Witenski says he will strive to save up a big down payment so that he can move up in the long run.

“I’m going to pay off my mortgage quickly and use equity,” he explained.

Langston Allen says a unit on stocks and bonds caught his interest. Although he plans to pursue a computer science degree, he wants to better understand dividends and capital gains rules so that he can make his own investments.

Engle says he was unsure how many students would be interested in the new class the first semester it was offered, but 31 registered. Now in his second semester, he’s got another 31 tackling introductory subjects like job applications and paying for college.

As he fine-tunes the course, Engle says he plans to allot more time for lessons on investing, particularly retirement options, and how stocks and bonds match up against mutual funds.

Answers to financial literacy quiz:  1C, 2B, 3A, 4D

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