Economic Literacy is a Vehicle for Opportunity

By Jose Rivera-Acosta

Economics and financial literacy are used in the world every single day, whether it is making a small purchase, choosing how to spend time, or deciding where to live.
For the students I teach at Yuma High School, knowledge of economic literacy is indispensable. Education is the primary means to opportunity and success for many of these young people who are first-generation Americans. As their math teacher, I feel a personal responsibility to equip my students with economic knowledge to help them achieve their dreams and gain confidence with finances. By understanding economic literacy, my students are gaining the tools to set them up for life-long financial freedom and security.
The core of economic literacy is the ability to make good decisions. Students should be taught to consider what is gained and lost with every choice and the different variables that should be considered. In a world of credit cards, compound interest, investing, and debt, students need to learn these tools to make good financial determinations.

Teaching economics requires engaging and interactive activities to increase student understanding. Classes that are mechanical in nature do not resonate long-term with students and can be easily forgotten. One of my favorite activities in the classroom takes place during my Saturday economic literacy course. I combine financial lessons with the game of monopoly to create a fun and educational activity in which the students can both learn and compete. I give the students varying economic rules which help the children develop problem-solving and decision-making skills.
I learned the value of real-life financial literacy application while studying economics in college. When I chose to pursue teaching, I was passionate about adopting financial application in all my lessons and have done so through the entirety of my teaching career. Learning the basics of financial decision-making should begin when students are in elementary school and continue throughout all their education. Such financial concepts do not need to be confined to a single subject, such as consumer math, but can be incorporated throughout all education, beginning at a young age. Good decision-making skills are used every day in all areas of life.
My students also look forward to participating in the Stock Market Experience hosted by Economic Literacy Colorado. The program’s online investment simulation trains my students in buying, selling and trading stocks. Since students must take financial risks, weigh economic outcomes and work together, they finish the program with an understanding of the stock market and a healthy level of competition among one another.

For the many students I teach who grew up in economically disadvantaged homes, financial literacy is of greater importance because these children have little to no financial cushion upon which to fall back. In these cases, opportunities will only be available for these students if finances are handled wisely and saved. Students who have taken my financial literacy classes and go on to college courses report higher levels of economic understanding, financial decision-making, and stock market knowledge than many of their college peers. They feel better equipped to get a job after high school or college and confidently handle increased financial responsibilities. I am passionate about financial education because it equips students of any background or economic class to create attainable goals for their lives.

At Yuma High School, I have had the privilege of forming personal relationships with many of my students. I know their stories of hard work and sacrifice, therefore the surrounding community of Yuma feels more like a family. I am highly invested in helping my students reach their dreams and personal potential, so I tailor courses at Yuma High School to include what my students need the most, such as economic literacy training. I believe teaching personal finance and economic literacy is one of the best ways to empower students to learn responsibility, develop decision-making skills, and succeed in their professional goals. I encourage other educators to see the value of financial literacy and incorporate it in their classrooms.

Rivera-Acosta is a math teacher at Yuma (CO) High School.