Stuyvesant’s new personal finance elective is a good start. Now, let’s make it mandatory. – Chalkbeat New York

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others thinking and writing about public education.

When I got my first paycheck for working on a political campaign and nearly a third was taken out for taxes, I was startled because I was only making minimum wage. I shrugged it off assuming this was why grown-ups always are always complaining about taxes. 

As I recounted this as a coming-of-age story to family friends, someone explained to me that I could likely get some of that money back if I filed a tax return the following April. While the finance terms flew over my head, I perked up immediately at talk of a tax refund. I hadn’t known this was possible, and I’m not alone. 

Many high school students are about to face one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives: how to pay for college. Yet a lot of us are unprepared to make this decision and many others that will follow — from paying rent to using credit cards to saving for the proverbial rainy day. What we don’t know about money management can follow us for decades to come. 

I go to Stuyvesant High School, where students can take over 30 AP classes and choose from more than 50 electives. But until recently, there was no personal finance class. Students were graduating well prepared for college, but often clueless about managing their money.

In 2021, I wrote in my high school paper, The Stuyvesant Spectator, about the need for financial literacy education; my piece pushed Stuyvesant to create a personal finance elective the following school year. I was delighted by the school administration’s responsiveness to the article but soon realized that just offering the class was not enough. In a grade of over 800 students, only 8% of seniors could take the course. 

Unable to enroll due to high demand, I sat in on the class a couple of times. I watched as seniors reviewed their college acceptances and financial aid packages, and were shown how to create a budget with the real numbers at hand. During another lesson, they learned about marketing tactics that companies use to lure customers; students created their own imaginary companies using those strategies to understand how to avoid falling for misleading marketing claims. 

Financial literacy is not a topic only some students should get to understand. It’s like a health class: a field of critical knowledge every high schooler needs (yes, even if that means yet another graduation requirement). Recognizing this, The Stuyvesant Spectator’s editorial board published a special issue titled “The Stocktator” to promote the class and its expansion. We talked …….


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