Prince George’s County Public Schools (Maryland) is the 19th largest school district in the United States, serving over 132,000 students. The school system, which spans east of Washington, DC, is also one of the nation’s most racially diverse school systems, serving 60% Black students, 18% Hispanic or Latino students, 13% White students, 4% Asian students, and 2% Multiracial students. In 2019, PGCPS became an NGPF Gold Standard Challenge Grantee by adopting a graduation requirement for personal finance that all students will take!
Susan Bistransin (@TeachFinLitMD) is a 25+ year veteran Family & Consumer Sciences (FACS) Financial Literacy teacher from PGCPS’s Parkdale High School who advocated for the change. The best part? Susan’s vision ultimately succeeded after she beat the drum for personal finance to become a high school graduation requirement for the last 10+ years.
Jean-Paul Cadet (@DrJeanPaulCadet) is a former principal currently serving as Prince George’s County Public Schools’ Career & Technical Education (CTE) Director, Adjunct Professor at Howard University in Washington, DC, and Ambassador Fellow for the United States Department of Education. Together, these two energetic education leaders tell one of the most inspiring stories of change from two different perspectives within this very large, very diverse school system.
How did personal finance become a graduation requirement in PGCPS after a 10+ year advocacy journey? Hear the awe-inspiring tale from Mrs. Bistransin and Dr. Cadet in their own words below.
Describe a rough timeline for how you and/or your colleagues were able to advocate for personal finance to become a graduation requirement in your school/district. How long did it take? What were the major progress milestones?
As a FACS Financial Literacy teacher in Prince George’s county, I’ve been advocating for a financial literacy graduation requirement for about 10 years. Every person I spoke to about this issue agreed that this subject matter is very important for students, but there were various roadblocks to the process. In the spring of 2018, two of our school board members were interviewed about a financial literacy mandate on the local news. I seized the opportunity and contacted them about it. A few months later, our student School Board member Joshua Omolola approached me for help with the suit he wore to board meetings. We began talking about the importance of Financial Literacy and he took off with the initiative. He enlisted the help of the Student Government association students and made Financial Education for all a rallying cry. I brought my students with me to speak before the School Board on the matter for months and we ended up with a successful outcome.
From the school board end of things, in April 2020, financial literacy as a graduation requirement received overwhelming support. The Board’s Vice Chair Edward Burroughs III teamed up with Student Board Member Joshua Omolola to sponsor the bill that requires all public high school students to take a financial literacy course as part of a graduation requirement. The legislation requires all public high schools to offer a course in financial literacy beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. It then becomes a graduation requirement the following school year for the class of 2023-2024.
What challenges did you encounter in your efforts to make personal finance a graduation requirement, and what solutions did you find for these challenges?
In the many years I advocated for financial literacy as a graduation requirement, I encountered several challenges. Our State Dept of Education has a Financial Literacy Curriculum and has mandated that Fin Lit instruction be offered in every grade, K-12. They have stopped short of mandating a course, however, asking that individual counties make their own decisions on mandates.
I often heard that a financial literacy class in high school was not enough and there needed to be a comprehensive K-12 plan before organizations would get behind it. I was encouraged by the addition of Finance Park for our middle school students, but still felt that it was not enough. It is so important for students to go out into the real world with a good foundation of financial knowledge.
After teaching this course as an elective for almost 25 years, I had first-hand knowledge of the impact it made on high school students and had many of them return to tell me how much they appreciated being taught how to handle their money while still in high school.
Embracing financial literacy as a graduation requirement was met with full support by members of the School Board. It is important to note that PGCPS is no stranger to providing access to financial literacy education to its students. Various district schools have incorporated financial education into their curriculum. Further, as a demonstration of its commitment to finance education, PGCPS partnered with Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, and Capital One to create the PGCPS JA Finance Park in 2015. The PGCPS JA Finance Park delivers digital financial literacy training on making real-life financial decisions to middle school students that will lay the foundation for how they approach their financial responsibilities in the future.
Which stakeholders (students, parents, admin, business leaders, school board, etc.) were helpful partners and “catalysts for change” in your quest to make the graduation requirement happen?
By far the most outstanding advocate was Joshua Omolola, a Parkdale High School senior and student member of the School Board. He partnered with Edgar Burroughs and drafted the proposition for a graduation requirement. He rallied the Prince George’s County Student Government association to speak on behalf of the initiative. The Parkdale PTSA President, Rev. Mike Dickson was also very helpful. He spoke at multiple board meetings and invited me to discuss the initiative with our parents. One of my Student Banking Ambassadors for Capital One Bank, Neziah Osayiah wrote an article for our school paper and was invited to open the national Society for Financial Education and Professional Development annual conference. He spoke at board meetings multiple times as well and his enthusiasm for Financial Literacy is contagious. Capital One Bank has also been a strong advocate for Financial education, having established a student ambassador program by hiring 10 high school seniors to work in an in-school bank branch. The Maryland Council on Economic Education has also provided a great deal of support in this effort. And the advocacy playbook by Next Gen Personal Finance was invaluable in preparing our speeches.
PGCPS’ key stakeholders and partners in the journey towards making financial literacy a graduation requirement include students, parents, administrative staff, school board members, business leaders and community advocacy groups.
The major catalysts for change can be credited to PGCPS’ students who publicly voiced their concern, interest and desire to understand how money works. Undoubtedly, the impact of COVID-19 on the economy has taught a lot of lessons, which have presented an even greater need to provide finance education to students prior to completing high school. School Board members want students to be prepared to manage their finances, and students are ready to learn and implement this new found information in their lives.
A leader in the quest for making financial education a graduation requirement is Student Board Member Joshua Omolola. Mr. Omolola galvanized students across the school district to understand the importance and value of financial education as a key factor in navigating life after high school.