Tackling Timely Topics: Speyer's Financial Literacy Curriculum Takes Over the Boulevard

Talk of advertising claims, the impact of geopolitical issues on the economy , and wage estimates floated through the Boulevard as the Middle Schoolers welcomed professionals from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) during the first of their three visits to Speyer, as part of our financial literacy curriculum. Taking a break from their usual morning schedule, each grade explored various financial topics and with all of the details, we have parent and Board Chair Greg Peterson and Deputy Head of School Paul Deards:

 Would you rather buy a $250 phone or $450 dollar phone (assuming, in answer to some very pointed questions from Speyer sixth graders, they had identical features, were offered by the same providers, and there are no hidden costs associated with either)? But what if 100 trees were axed to make the $250 phone and only one to make the costlier version? And would your answer change if you were buying phones for a small company that sent representatives (with their phones) to help build houses in needy neighborhoods, but you were facing shutdown because funding has recently been cut?

Welcome to Speyer’s financial literacy curriculum for the year.  Working closely with faculty and administration, the financial firm PwC developed learning pieces that not only awaken students to issues of importance in the financial world, but are doing so in a way that is open-ended, allowing students to push deeply into topics that are timely, edgy, and do not have clear answers. 

The format of instruction works well for Speyer. The instructors, when they arrived, arrived in force. This led to some very intimate and provocative dialogue. Asked how Mark should feel when the sneakers that he spent his birthday money on didn’t make him “faster” or “more popular” as the advertisement had promised, fifth graders were not satisfied with an easy answer. “Did he need sneakers anyway?” one girl asked. “Were they fairly priced?” another wondered. 

Between sessions, the instruction team met in the conference room where, as a matter of standard practice, they asked, “What worked?” and “What can we improve on?” Gently but thoughtfully they challenged one another to explain, to give examples or to suggest an alternative. It was instructive to see this real world application of the Speyer www.ebi protocol. We are instilling in our kids the sense of respect for others, empathy, and reflective self-scrutiny that will be (as PwC showed) mission-critical in the real world. 

The themes link to elements in the broader curriculum. The fifth grade investigation of commercials and advertising, ties into themes of contextualization and understanding the motive of a writer of history. It also resonates with the social and emotional curriculum on the bombardment by pop culture that children endure today. It also informs thinking about research. The instructors challenged the children to question the validity of a claim, to investigate and ask further questions and to take advice from people with information. As we all know, a healthy skepticism is a useful skillset.

Sixth grade is considering how economics and the environment interplay. As they finish a unit on the Industrial Revolution, the students are wrestling with the question of whether technology and progress is an unambiguously good thing. The learning session ended (as one knowing Speyer might anticipate) with a debate. They leapt, battle ready it seemed, into the discussion on phone costing. The instructors were enthusiastic. One noted he’d anticipated the curriculum would be rather challenging for 6th graders. Instead, he said, he had to raise his instruction a couple of notches. In particular, the students’ knowledge of geopolitical issues surprised him.

The seventh graders have been learning about the stock market: the different kinds of investments possible; what a fiduciary does; how you select an investment time horizon; how often you should rebalance a portfolio; and what can go wrong.  Aside from the intricacies and foibles of the markets, students will also learn about charitable giving (and hopefully build a lifetime respect for its importance), about how to build consensus and advocate for causes respectfully, about how the macroeconomic world, politics, and current events impact asset values, and about the importance of saving and planning. 

The eighth grade, who are deeply involved in their high school selection process, completed a career interest survey, reviewed occupational employment, and wage estimates reports and looked at career planning options and financing college for various fields of study.

Financial literacy is a key element of the modern world and one that many students in college do not grasp. As the world continues to change, there will be many questions with no easy answers. But if our graduates can come fearlessly to new situations, frame difficult questions appropriately, filter and apply the relevant data, and collaborate with others to build, test and modify solutions in real time they will play a critical role in the changing world. With its delivery of financial content and Socratic delivery process, Speyer’s financial literacy curriculum is continuing the enhancement of our curriculum.

Speyer School