By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Salem High School sophomore Victoria Robinson said the lessons she learned in her Money Matters personal finance class really clicked when she started working a part-time job.
She opened her first paycheck to see all the tax deductions her teacher had talked about in class.
“It made me realize this class is essential,” Robinson said.
“Before going into this course, I had no knowledge. I didn’t know what a tax refund was,” agreed Robinson’s classmate, sophomore Damian Barrous. “One of the things we learn in the class is ‘pay yourself first’ (to save money). ... I think this is a great course. Everyone should take it.”
Taken by close to 100 students each year, Salem High School’s Money Matters covers everything from personal budgeting and how credit cards work to saving strategies and the ins and outs of income tax returns.
Massachusetts Treasurer Steven Grossman visited SHS yesterday morning to showcase the program and talk with school and city officials.
Salem was awarded a $13,700 state grant in March to continue and expand the high school’s financial literacy programming. Grossman said he’s trying to visit each of the 11 schools awarded grants through the state’s Gateway Cities program this spring. Staff from the 11 grant-winning schools will be getting together in November to swap ideas.
Grossman lauded Salem High for being “extraordinarily innovative.”
“I haven’t seen a better (financial literacy) program anywhere else in the state,” he said.
Salem’s grant application stood out because the high school already had personal finance classes, said Julia Phelps, associate commissioner for curriculum and instruction at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The SHS model should be shared with schools across the state as a “best practice,” Phelps said.
Teachers Carol Carr and Virginia LeBlanc teach Money Matters; Carr has been teaching Salem High students about the stock market and personal finance for two decades.
“These are all the things that everybody needs to know, but they don’t,” Carr said of the curriculum. “... Financial knowledge is power.”
With the grant award, Carr said she’d like to create a class unit on paying for college, and use the SHS television studio to film short pieces with students explaining personal finance principles.
Today’s students come out of college with “a tremendous amount of debt, and no clue how they got (it),” Carr said.
Carr was among the high school staff and students who joined Grossman, Mayor Kim Driscoll, schools Superintendent Stephen Russell, state Sen. Joan Lovely and high school Principal David Angeramo in a discussion about the grant and the school’s personal finance classes.
“The bottom line is the students are the ones that are going to continue to benefit from this,” said Angeramo.
The hour-long discussion was filmed by Salem Access Television and will be rebroadcast on local cable.
Salem’s public schools are collaborating with Salem State University, Salem CyberSpace, Salem Five Bank and Cabot Money Management on the grant, said Russell.
Grossman is considering a run for governor. At the end of yesterday’s SHS visit, Grossman told the press he’s still “leaning strongly” toward running for governor and will make an announcement after the special election to fill John Kerry’s U.S. Senate seat.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.