District teacher talks Money 101
If you want to get a good idea of what it was like to take Stacy Mix's financial preparedness class at Aloha High School, start by reading an entire Best Buy terms-and-services agreement.
"Do you know how long that is?" Mix said with a laugh. "Nobody wants to sit and read a three-page terms-and-conditions agreement. But I made (my students), and I had questions to go along with it. As much as they hated reading it, they said, 'that was so boring but so helpful.'"
That was just one component of Mix's one-semester senior elective class, which also covered insurance, credit and debit cards, credit scores, renting and buying homes and cars, household budgets, college financial aid, taxes and more.
Mix taught health and physical education at Aloha for 17 years, and also helped start a successful child development program. But in recent years, the financial preparedness class became a passion for the teacher, who will be transferring to Southridge High in the upcoming school year.
"I had no curriculum, no books, no colleagues to collaborate with," Mix said about starting the class a few years ago. So she turned to curriculum from other states, as well as to friends and family members who work in finance and accounting, for help.
"A lot of what I taught the kids was from personal experience, showing them what they should and shouldn't do," Mix added.
Gov. Kate Brown recently signed House Bill 2229, which encourages school districts and charter schools to invest in financial literacy education. It will take effect next year, but currently it's unclear how the law will be enforced.
For Mix — and many of her former students — there are clear benefits to making financial preparedness a high school requirement.
"I didn't know how much an apartment should cost, I didn't know what a mortgage is, I didn't know how to pay my bills," said Ryan Nguyen, a recent graduate of Aloha High, when asked why he chose to take Mix's class. "I wanted to learn all that stuff, not just in little bits and pieces from my family, but all at once."
For Nguyen, the most informative part of Mix's class was the "permanent partnership" assignment, in which students were sorted into pairs and worked together to plan a budget, which needed to include rent, car payments, food, insurance and other necessities. Nguyen was assigned a friend as his partner, and said he didn't expect it to be too difficult. That turned out to be wrong.
"We kept fighting over everything," he said. "Looking for an apartment was absolutely awful because we had totally different design tastes. We considered changing partners, but she wouldn't let us."
Mix also assigned students random additional challenges to deal with — in Nguyen's case, that meant he and his partner had to plan for a baby on the way.
"I knew theoretically that all these things are difficult," Nguyen said about the doctor's visits, financial planning and other responsibilities that come with having a child. "I'd seen it on TV and heard about it, but experiencing it for myself was really eye-opening."
"They really got a good understanding of what it would be like when they were out on their own," Mix said about the "permanent partnership" assignment. "I made them call apartments and pretend that they were really looking to rent, so they could think about what kind of questions you need to ask."
Because Mix's transfer was decided late last school year, she didn't have time to implement her financial preparedness class for Southridge students this school year. She said she's working with David Nieslanik, Southridge's principal, to have it ready for the 2018-19 school year.
In the meantime, Mix will teach health and physical education at Southridge, and will give informal single-subject financial seminars for interested seniors.
There are financial preparedness classes at other schools in the Beaverton School District, including Beaverton High School, but the district does not have a shared curriculum for the classes. In Mix's opinion, every state should have established financial preparedness curriculum — not just for the good of students, but for the good of the country.
"Our country is in so much trouble because of the way we spend money and don't save," she said. "This is something I really strongly believe in."