“This grant has had an essential impact on Denver Public Schools’ financial literacy needs. As a district, we are limited in the resources we can provide in every sixth- to 12th-grade classroom, and the resources that were available had not been updated to the embedded CAS PFL/Econ standards in the state. Therefore, teachers were relying on limited and outdated materials to provide financial literacy instruction in their classrooms, and no specific professional development had been previously offered through the district. Now, with the distribution of trained financial literacy experts in 34 schools, we have an excellent structure to share this information with our students, using teachers as content leaders.”

- Katie Nitka, Secondary Social Studies Curriculum Specialist at Denver Public Schools

Financial literacy education: Our impact

Great-West Financial and Empower worked with teachers, administrators and school districts to identify their financial literacy needs. Then we supported them by providing grants in those key areas. Here are samples of 2014 best practices.

Teacher training for Denver Public Schools

Denver Public Schools personnel said the greatest barrier teachers faced when incorporating financial literacy into their curriculum was confidence. So Great- West Financial and Empower funded training on finance topics for middle and high school social studies teachers. Teachers said these sessions positively impacted their knowledge of financial literacy, confidence in teaching financial literacy, confidence in their own knowledge of financial literacy, and their financial literacy classroom practices. We also funded a library of lesson plans for teachers to pull from and customize in the classroom. This activity provided a resource for teachers districtwide.

Financial Fridays in Englewood

The company funded a financial literacy coordinator position for the Englewood School District. This individual met with principals and teacher leads to determine how to incorporate financial literacy into a full curriculum — then introduced some innovative programs.

For example, elementary school students learned about financial topics during Financial Fridays. Each Friday, teachers spotlighted a new concept, such as financial goal-setting. They reinforced learning through an experiential activity. As part of the goal- setting unit, each student and classroom set a financial goal to raise money for a charity. Sixth-graders chose the Denver Dumb Friends League and set a schoolwide goal of $1,200. Many fun fundraising activities ensued to reach the goal, including a fourth-grade coin war. By the end of the two-week fundraising period, the students surpassed their goal, donating almost $1,800 to the nonprofit!

The coordinator also worked with the high schools and the District Board to create a required financial literacy class for high school graduation, one of the first of its kind in Colorado. In the one-semester course, students learned how choices influence occupational options and future earning potential. They also learned how to create a budget; manage their money in the banking system; make wise spending, saving and credit choices; and evaluate and understand insurance and taxes. This course set students on a path toward being in control of their financial future.

Special assignment at Brighton 27J

The Brighton 27J School District needed an expert to help it implement its financial literacy curriculum. With funding from Great-West Financial and Empower, it hired a financial literacy teacher to fill this gap. This newly created position built relationships with teachers to assess their needs. Then the financial literacy expert created professional development programs to boost confidence around teaching financial topics and helped design district- specific curriculum.

Managing money at Cherry Creek School District

With funding from Great-West Financial and Empower, elementary school students in the Cherry Creek School District learned about basic investments, diversification and other financial themes. From there, students engaged in more advanced courses regarding mutual funds and other financial concepts. During one class, 5th graders debated diversification and risk, concepts many adults don’t understand. Discussions like this, early in life, set up students for greater success in the future. This course is an example of a blueprint that other districts can implement.

“Incorporating financial literacy into our elementary school classrooms was our biggest challenge. Our teachers in kindergarten through 6th grades understood the importance but struggled to find a place for it to fit into an already packed curriculum. We decided on Financial Fridays as a way to make financial literacy a consistent, intentional theme throughout the year, also as a way to make it less overwhelming for teachers to implement. By dedicating 10 Fridays a year to this theme and providing teachers with the content, we allow them to do what they do best — bring it to life in a way that is meaningful for their students. And, as an added benefit, we ensure that every student at every grade level in our elementary schools is exposed to important financial concepts.”

- Heather Greenwood, Englewood Schools Financial Literacy Coordinator

National teacher training and empowerment

Elementary school teachers are responsible for teaching all subjects, from reading and math to science and financial literacy. However, many of these teachers have never taken a financial literacy or economics course.

In conjunction with the Colorado Council for Economic Education (CCEE), Great- West Financial and Empower identified a need for professional development workshops specifically for elementary school teachers.

In 2014, we launched a first-of-its-kind online, accredited training program any elementary teacher nationwide could access. Teaching Personal Financial Literacy in the Elementary Grades is based on national standards for financial literacy. This all-online course features about four hours of high-quality videos. The videos present financial literacy in an engaging style through real-world stories that illuminate basic principles. The program includes lectures from an economist and master teachers who’ve taught financial literacy topics for years. Once teachers enroll in the program, they can access lesson plans. The program’s popularity has been overwhelming. All courses in 2014 were filled, and more than 100 people were on the waiting list.

“I learned so much about my own financial decision-making (through this course). I think it is possible to teach these topics in an elementary school and integrate the lessons in with other subjects. I strongly recommend that teachers take this course. I was really impressed with the quality of the materials and the ease at which I was able to access everything.”

- Teacher who participated in the online courses

Engaging students in and out of the classroom

While learning financial literacy principles in the classroom is essential for students, Great-West Financial and Empower also believe students learn and retain more through interactive, real-world simulations. In 2014, we partnered with nonprofits to provide this experience to more than 50,000 students.

  • CCEE’s Stock Market Experience gave students in grades three through 12 a semester-long simulation in investments.
  • Junior Achievement (JA) Finance Park engaged students in grades eight through 10 in a reality-based decision-making game where they addressed family budgeting challenges for a day.
  • JA Rocky Mountain’s Stock Market Challenge involved more than 9,000 students from nearly 150 schools in a fast-paced, 80-minute simulated trading competition.
JA Rocky Mountain’s Stock Market Challenge

A visit to JA Finance Park helped Michael learn to budget and protect his savings. Michael believes the information he gained at JA Finance Park helped prepare him for a better life. “I hope to budget my money wisely so that I will not be in debt or owe large amounts of money to student loans.”

- Michael, Thornton High School