Experts discuss how to talk to students about economics

Thursday October 25, 2012

Financial experts discuss how to explain the importance of economics to students.

GREAT BARRINGTON -- On Monday, a group of about 50 educators, financial advisers, economists, and state and federal leaders set out to learn how best to teach public school students how to manage personal finances.

At the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington, the first Massachusetts Financial Educators' Symposium aimed to empower those who teach to help students take money matters into their own hands.

Massachusetts is one of 46 states to include financial education in kindergarten through Grade 12 curriculum, but the state doesn't require high school students to take a course in economics or personal finance.

Steven Cunningham, director of research and education for AIER, emphasized the importance of people of all ages knowing about topics like opportunity cost, how to calculate price indices and how to accumulate wealth.

"If people understand these things, they will make better decisions," he said.

Local teachers Matthew Gottfried, Ann Barber and Chris Unsworth have all introduced applicable lessons in finance to their students.

"It's really on teachers to incorporate this into the curriculum," said Gottfried, a math teacher at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. He said his students enjoy doing virtual stock trading and comparing gains.

Barber works with middle school students on balancing checkbooks and regularly takes eighth-grade girls to the annual "Money Matters" workshop at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield, which will be held on Nov. 13 and 14.

Unsworth teaches a career and vocational education course during which students participate in the nationally syndicated Virtual Enterprises global business simulation program.

"Giving kids something they can see, that they can use, is so important," Unsworth said.

Other topics of the day included financial education programs; strategies for navigating college costs, student loans and scholarships; credit and budgeting; and national standards and regional re sources for financial education.

From a policy perspective, David Floreen, senior vice president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association, highlighted two new breakthroughs in the state.

The first is the creation of a new three-year competitive grant program to be piloted for up to 10 high schools located in so-called Gateway cities.

Pittsfield is the only Gateway City in Berkshire County, but it would be eligible to apply for part of the $250,000 appropriation to be administered by the state De partment of Ele mentary and Secondary Education.

On Friday, a new 11-member advisory committee will meet for the first time to help the state create and implement better financial education guidelines and requirements.

Video recordings and resources presented in the symposium will be made available through the AIER and Jump$tart Massachusetts Co alition websites: and

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