Jacqueline Prester was a self-proclaimed hustler in middle school. Mowing lawns, babysitting—she took the initiative to earn her own money. But she was also a responsible moneymaker, using the envelope system to budget every cent before she knew it was an actual budgeting strategy. Back then, her friends rolled their eyes when she tried to share her financial savvy.
Fast forward two decades and Prester is a popular business and technology teacher at Mansfield High School in Massachusetts, working to give students real-life financial skills. Only this time her audience is keen to learn. (Her Personal Finance classes always reach their 28 student capacity.)
Prester’s passion is infectious, and the content she chooses—like Pathway To Financial Success created by Discovery Education and Discover—immerses students in authentic lessons with videos, interactive modules and real-world connections.
EdSurge caught up with Prester to find out how she packs her classes with willing learners and to uncover her secret to finding compelling financial literacy content. She also shared how and why she helped pass a new Massachusetts bill focused on financial literacy.
EdSurge: Your classes are very popular. What makes them so engaging for students?
Jacqueline Prester: One of my strengths is that I bring the outside world into my classroom. If I can't connect what students are learning to the outside world, they don’t understand, or they forget about it. But if I can help them connect with what we’re learning, they remember it.
Give us an example of how you do that.
Beefing up the connection to outside the classroom was part of the reason I decided to try the Pathway To Financial Success program.
The program has an element called Family Connections, where we ask students to talk with family members about checking credit reports, saving money and even choosing an insurance plan.
For example, we talked about jobs versus careers in class. For the Family Connection activity, students asked their parents or guardians what their first job was and how they transitioned from a job to a career. Hearing about that process is a learning experience for students. When they come back to class it leads to some great conversations.
Students are learning about personal finance, but not just because that's the name of the class. They're making it personal.
You’ve been teaching this course for years. Why did you feel you needed new curriculum?
I’m constantly updating my curriculum. And I like that Pathway to Financial Success is a unit-based curriculum, so it’s very flexible kind of like plug-and-play. There are interactive classroom activities, videos, e-learning modules and curated resources. And everything I need is in one spot. Established teachers can pull what they need from it. Someone establishing a new course could use the whole curriculum.
For example, I love that there is a mobile banking unit because I felt I was lacking in that area. It's such a transitional topic right now. Students need to know how to deposit checks on their phone. They also need to understand online banking, mobile banking and alternative payment systems like Venmo. They must be aware of all of the options and the potential pitfalls. With something like Venmo, money transfers can easily become a social activity. Peers share transactions and use emojis and humor to describe why money is changing hands—I don't want students to get caught up in the social aspect. The unit covered all that information and had an interactive activity comparing banking institutions.
Plus, this program does a great job covering the Council for Economic Education standards for teaching financial literacy. Students are learning about and mastering concepts like credit, banking, loans—all the major topics that are expected for students taking a course like mine.
Why is it so important for schools to teach financial literacy?
Everybody is going to have money at some point in the future. I tell my students—whether they're going to have 50 dollars or a million—I want them to be able to get everything they want out of that sum of money.
It benefits everybody if people are self-sufficient and able to support themselves. This is why, for years, I've been advocating that financial literacy be a requirement in our schools.
Looking for creative new ways to teach financial self-sufficiency? Take advantage of an abundance of interactive digital tools from TGR EDU: Explore to make paying for college just a matter of dollars and sense.
Can you tell us more about that? You advocated for a bill related to teaching financial literacy in schools, and it was recently passed into law.
Obviously, I'm a huge advocate of teaching financial literacy in schools. I speak about it quite a bit because students aren’t necessarily getting a financial education at home, so they need to get it at school. They need to get it early, and it needs to be reinforced year after year.
For my part in working on this bill, I contacted every single elected official in Massachusetts multiple times. I met with educators, people from the nonprofit world, from banking, to discuss what's going on. It's gone through a lot of iterations, and although it’s not a requirement for schools to teach financial literacy, it’s a step forward.
The bill outlines financial literacy standards that cover credit, understanding loans, paying for college and so forth. And it stipulates that classes be taught by a qualified teacher in business, math, history or technology. It also gives the Department of Education the authority to hire experts to evaluate and make recommendations for curriculum.
What kinds of learning results are you seeing from your students?
They learn so much. Let me brag about them a little bit.
There's a company called W!se that offers a financial literacy certification exam. I don't teach to the exam. I don't even mention it to students. But I offer it at the end of the semester if they’d like to take it. This past semester, 14 students took it, and 10 passed. It's great because they can put it on a résumé and talk about it on their college applications. Financial literacy is something that no one can take away from them.
What’s next for Prester?
Prester is excited to bring new content to her classes from TGR EDU: Explore. This program—from TGR Foundation, A Tiger Woods Charity and Discovery Education—offers a wealth of resources designed to get students and their families thinking about college readiness. Perhaps more important, with digital lessons focused on college access, digital explorations geared towards the financial aid process and training videos aimed at boosting financial awareness among college applicants, these resources help students and families learn how they can afford to pay for college.