Meet Our Featured Teacher, Dara!
As a teacher, your influence goes way beyond the classroom. And that’s definitely true when you teach Foundations in Personal Finance, because it’s more than just a finance course––it’s life-change. It’s hope for the future. It’s preparing students to move forward into their adult lives with confidence.
And in order to lay a solid foundation for their future, students need to be able to set goals (both short term and long term). To get some tips on how to help students do that, we went straight to the source––the teachers who are actively helping them every day! We talked with Foundations teacher Dara Schmoe of Marysville Getchell High School in Washington about how she got started with the curriculum and how she encourages her students to set goals. She had some great insight!
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But first, a little backstory: Before she even started teaching the Foundations curriculum, Dara had been listening to The Dave Ramsey Show on the radio, watching clips from the show on YouTube, and reading Dave’s books––all of which helped her and her husband ditch their debt and lay a solid foundation for their own daughter. Together, they successfully paid off all their student loan and credit card debt, now have zero car payments, and are well on their way to paying off their mortgage (way to go, guys!). That success sparked her curiosity about what might be available to use in her classroom, so when she found out that it was possible for her school to use Foundations, she jumped right on it.
She started using the curriculum as a supplement in her financial algebra classes, and––as they say––the rest is history. Her students have been loving it, and Dara has loved seeing the life-change that’s happening in them as a result.
“For instance,” Dara told us, “one student decided to wait on a new cell phone until she had saved up the cash. Over the course of a few months, I watched as she went from trying to convince her adult family members to cosign to finance a new phone to choosing to save the money and then having the satisfaction of paying for the phone without financing. It meant using the old phone with the cracked screen for longer than she wanted to, but she learned a valuable life lesson.”
We thought that was so cool, and we wanted to get Dara’s thoughts on how she talks about the idea of delayed gratification and goal setting with her students. She told us that one of the most powerful things students can do is think about where they want to be a few years (or even just a few months) down the road—and then learn how being smart with money over time can get them there.
“I think a lot of people want to hear about how to ‘get rich quick,’ and the honest truth I tell these kids is that you don’t,” Dara said. “Especially when we start getting into the unit on retirement and investing and they start playing around with the investing tools, they start to see how the little decisions really do add up. I let the kids know that they might not be super wealthy in their 20s, but they’ll be on their way if they make good choices from the beginning.”
Dara continued, “And 20 years from now, things will look very different than they would if you didn’t have a plan and didn’t make great choices. And then 40 years out—that’s when you really start to feel it. That’s when the wealth will have built up, and you’re going to look different than the other people who are concerned about how they’re going to retire. It’s a slow and steady commitment.”
When kids realize that they can build wealth and maybe even be millionaires one day, they have hope that they can change their family tree––and they start to see a clear path for how to get there. This path is super important to the goal-setting process. “That’s concrete and gives them something to picture in their future,” Dara explained.
Another important part of helping students lay a foundation for their future is by asking them to imagine what they would do in tricky situations, like being approached by a credit card company or being asked to cosign a loan. Dara said, “I never thought about those things ahead of time––they just sort of happened to me. I want [the students] to consider: What do I think about that? What would that feel like? What are my options?”
We know people are often blindsided by those kinds of situations if they’ve never taken the time to form their own opinions or think of a game plan. That’s why Dara gives her students plenty of opportunities to do just that.
Dara also uses a lot of real-life scenarios to bring personal finance concepts to life for her students and to help them see how setting goals and sticking with them can really pay off over time. She saves the credit card offers that come in the mail and brings them into the classroom to show her students how tricky the companies can be with their word choice (like, “Congratulations! You qualify for a credit card!” and other nonsense like that). Dara even celebrates her personal wins with her students: “When I paid off my car, I brought in the title and told them, ‘This is what it looks like to have your car paid for’––and they all cheered!” she said. Examples like that make personal finance seem all the more real to these high schoolers and encourage them to reach their own financial goals too.
All of this visualizing, planning and practical application has really paid off for Dara’s students and helped them form their own goals, like paying cash for a car. Dara specifically loves making this goal feel like a reality with the shopping simulation activity—where students shop around for their dream car and then a more affordable car. She said it’s super exciting for them and gets them thinking about how to pull that off in real life: “As the year goes on, they’ll tell me that they’re saving up for a car or even setting aside money for prom—yeah, it’s super cute when they start doing that!”
And the success stories from her students have been amazing. One student, for example, needed to replace her car. “Her vehicle was broken, and the trade-in value was low. But she had some money saved from her part-time job that could also go toward the replacement car,” Dara explained. “Rather than picking a car that was out of her price range and having a loan (she was 18 years old at the time), she decided to wait another two months, take extra shifts at her job on the weekends, and ended up buying the replacement car completely with cash and the trade-in value of the old car. It was fun to hear the updates as the weeks passed and she was getting closer to that next car. When she showed me the keys, we all cheered for her. Her smile was priceless.”
Dara went on, “Another student was involved in the ROTC program we have in our district. She decided to pursue the ROTC program at the university she had been accepted to and ended up being offered a full scholarship. She is going to graduate with a degree and no debt. She knows how significant that is.”
Her students also get super excited about the idea of investing (let’s be real: That’s not a sentence you hear a lot). Dara said, “I’ve had students who went and talked to an investment professional in town to find out more about what it would look like to open a Roth IRA. They did that on their own time! Believe it or not, they actually are very interested in those practicalities.” We have to admit, compound interest is pretty magical. Talk about a long-term goal that really pays off––literally!
Of course, we were curious about Dara’s tips on setting and keeping her own personal goals for the new year. She said, “It might sound funny, but I write them down and post them in my bathroom. I pull out my fun paper and markers and spend a little bit of time to make them look artsy, and then I read them every day!” We love that idea! And we totally agree––writing down your goals makes them a lot easier to reach.
Dara continued, “One of my goals for this past year was to do something adventurous every week with my daughter, and that definitely helped me be more intentional and make it happen.”
Finally, we wanted to know if she has any advice for other Foundations teachers. “I would definitely say not to shy away from asking thought-provoking questions,” Dara said. “I think when you encourage kids to decide what they’re going to do when it comes to paying for college or signing up for a credit card, they’ll be less likely to wander into debt. Their lives are going to be free of so much of the trouble that they otherwise could have had.” We couldn’t agree more! Questions and real, honest discussions are some of the best ways to get students to really think about the material.
Dara went on to say, “Teaching this course is like teaching a part of my heart. The students in my classes will have opportunities and wealth they may not have otherwise had because of what they are learning.” Major props to you, Dara––and we’re so grateful to all of our Foundations teachers who are helping set kids up for success in their future.
Looking for some more tips for helping your students set goals for the upcoming year? Check out our blog for more fun ideas!