Charlotte Sivanich: Financial Literacy for Students

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You’re never too young to learn financial literacy. Those that don’t often never do. Charlotte Sivanich has this Perspective.

Three years ago, when I was assigned to teach an applied math class that included personal finance topics, I thought I had a decent amount of financial knowledge, especially since my mom has worked at a bank for the past 40 years. Well, as it turns out, you don’t know just how much you don’t know until you have to teach it.

At the age of 28, I was learning about topics like marginal tax rates, amortization, index funds and Roth IRAs the night before I taught these topics to my students. And while my mom had taught me a lot, I still felt frustrated that I never learned these skills explicitly in school.

Knowing that my 17- and 18-year-old students are not too old to develop healthy financial habits, like early saving and investing, feeds my passion for teaching financial literacy.

However, access to personal finance education is not equal. In 2018, one in six high schoolers were required to take a semester of personal finance; in schools where 75 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, which we know disproportionally serve Black and brown students, only one in 25 students had the same graduation requirement.

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It is these inequities in schools, compounded with many other factors that perpetuate the wealth gap in our country and world.

Currently, only a quarter of California high school students have the choice of even taking a semester-long personal finance course. April is Financial Literacy Month, and I advocate to have personal finance as a graduation requirement in all U.S. high schools by the year 2030.

This pandemic reminds me that there is so much more value in this world than money, and at the same time, money has so much value in this world. With financial literacy education in all high schools, we can empower students with knowledge that might make future pandemics less oppressive.

Money habits start young, but teaching them doesn’t need to be solely up to families. My mom would agree.

With a Perspective, I’m Charlotte Sivanich.

Charlotte Sivanich teaches math at Gateway High School in San Francisco.