Mount Abe touts financial literacy in new symposium
BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School is promoting financial literacy among students in a first-of-its-kind symposium next Wednesday and community members will help grade students’ final projects.
The event will showcase the final projects of students in Mount Abraham teacher Scott Beckwith’s “The Age of Legality” class.
The civics class is required for students to take in order to graduate. In previous years, this class focused on topics like voting rights, Constitutional freedoms and personal liberties. This year, Beckwith decided to emphasize the importance of being financially literate. Most of his 75 students are seniors, while a few are juniors.
Over this past summer, Beckwith and fellow Mount Abraham teachers Teresa Fitz-Gerald, John Foster and Christopher Nezin attended a financial literacy summit at Champlain College. The goal of the summit was to instruct faculty how to teach their students 21st-century financial skills.
“We talked about things like what’s required to buy a home, and choosing a college that’s not going to cost you a fortune,” Beckwith said.
In his class, Beckwith takes statewide and national financial issues and has students connect them to their own lives.
“We talked about the effects of the government shutdown — one student had a parent who worked for the federal government who wasn’t going to work; another student’s (financial aid) application was delayed,” Beckwith said.
Students also tackle financial issues closer to home.
“We talk about how if a town takes out a bond, what effect that will have on taxes,” said Beck, who has taught at Mount Abraham for seven years and splits his time between teaching social studies and serving students with special needs in the guidance department.
He also encourages his students to think critically about the cost of attending college, such as the value of attending a less expensive community college to take general education classes and then transferring to a four-year institution to finish a degree.
The seniors in the class, Beckwith said, have had an eye-opening experience.
“My students have said they didn’t have this conversation with their parents before they were applying for college,” Beckwith said. “They should be having this conversation sooner — saving habits should start when kids are young.”
The Dec. 18 symposium will be held at Mount Abraham from 6 to 8 p.m. Members of the public are encouraged to attend; Beckwith assured there will be refreshments.
Students will present their projects to the community members. It’s not just for fun — their grade depends on it.
“Everyone who arrives gets a rubric, and those scores will determine the students’ final grade,” Beckwith said. “It takes the bias out of teaching, and it raises the bar for students.”
The goal of the project, Beckwith said, is to impart on students the necessary skills to handle their personal finances.
“We want our kids to be prepared, engaged citizens with a base of knowledge to navigate the real world,” he said.
Beckwith said longtime Mount Abraham teacher Greg Clark, who used to teach “The Age Of Legality” before his death in a traffic accident a year ago, was a proponent of involving the community.
“It’s community-based — for their projects, students have to contact experts in the field they are working on,” Beckwith said. “We’re trying to honor his legacy.”
Experts that have visited with students include a financial aid representative from Vergennes and Rep. David Sharpe, who represents Bristol in the Legislature.
Beckwith explained that at the symposium, some students will present “mini-TED Talks” modeled after the popular Technology, Engineering and Design conferences sponsored by the nonprofit Sapling Foundation that have been viewed over a billion times online. Other students will facilitate workshops on topics like budgeting, or present their projects at tables set up in the hallway.
The “mini-TED Talks’ will be 15 minutes in length, followed by a question-and-answer session if time permits. Topics include selecting a college major, estate planning, personal loans, and managing credit.
Beckwith said that one of the most important products of the class is that students are starting to talk about financial issues at home.
“Kids are going home and talking to their parents about what used to be taboo,” he said. “Growing up I never talked to my parents about their finances.”
He hopes that if this program is a success, the results will resonate far beyond Addison County.
“We hope to introduce financial literacy into the curriculum statewide,” Beckwith said. “I’d love for it to start a discussion in the community.”
If all goes well, he plans to host another such event in the spring.
“We want to get as many people as possible to begin the conversation about how financial literacy can benefit all of us,” Beckwith said.
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