Financially fit students: the importance of teaching students how to be good money managers is catching on around the country.

Author:Andrade, Jane Carroll
 
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Like most disasters, Hurricane Katrina brought out the best and worst in people. For at least one Mississippi teacher, the storm provided a teaching moment--in economics. Pam Carrubba, a master teacher of economics at Bay-Waveland Middle School in Bay St. Louis, Miss., used Katrina to help students understand FEMA debit cards, rebuilding family finances, and the connection between poverty and the problems resulting from the hurricane. It was a real-life opportunity to teach her students how being smart financially could empower them to improve their lives.

Determined to turn out financially literate graduates, Mississippi and Tennessee have embarked on ambitious programs to infuse personal finance education into their K-12 curricula.

Mississippi is the first state to roll out a major financial education initiative that will eventually train more than 14,000 K-12 teachers in seven states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi and Texas. Spearheaded by the National Council on Economic Education and State Farm Insurance, the three-year-effort is designed around the council's Virtual Economics[R] CD-ROM program, an interactive tool containing more than 1,200 lessons organized by grade level, concept and economics standards.

The Mississippi Council on Economic Education, in conjunction with the State Department of Education, is starting the program through a grant from State Farm, with a goal of training 6,000 teachers who will reach more than 400,000 students annually. Although no specific amount has been announced for the grant, Mia Jazo-Harris, media relations specialist at State Farm corporate headquarters in Bloomington, Ill., says State Farm is committed 100 percent to the Missouri K-12 program. "We're just waiting for figures to come in from various school districts," she says.

Mississippi teachers can become master teachers of economics by completing a year-long program on how to integrate macro- and micro-economic principles into high school and middle school curricula. The national council also provides workshops for teachers of all grade levels on subjects such as a general introduction to teaching economics, stock market games, economics and U.S. history, and international economics.

Mississippi Senator Mike Chaney, chair of the Education Committee, advocates putting state resources into financial education. He says funds to help increase financial literacy are included in the state's high-school redesign efforts, and he has proposed appropriating $1 million to the Virtual Economics program.

STARTING YOUNG

In Tennessee, first and fourth graders in 18 Memphis schools are learning how to make good financial decisions this spring as part of a pilot program called Smart Tennessee. Their teachers were trained last fall in the Financial Fitness for Life curriculum created by the National Council on Economic Education. The legislature appropriated $125,000 to the program, and First Tennessee Bank committed $125,000 a year for three years.

The curriculum provides materials at four levels--grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, and is designed to help students make better decisions for earning, spending, saving, borrowing, investing and managing money.

Courtney Magbee, a first-grade teacher at Peabody Elementary School in Memphis, says her students were quick to embrace the financial lessons.

"They love to talk about money," she says. Magbee particularly likes the activity-based...

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