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Financial Literacy for Everyone

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November 1, 2016

Steven Klimkiewicz

Hellgate High School
Missoula, Montana

Steven Klimkiewicz left his CFO position in the business world to pursue his teaching career and help students see the importance of financial decision making. In just over two years of teaching at Hellgate High School, Steven has made an impact on over 250 students' lives by bringing his professional business experience into the classroom.

Steven Klimkiewicz

After working in the public, private and non-profit sectors of the business world, Steven decided to go back to school in 2014 to earn a Master's in Education at the University of Montana, MT. Having grown up in a small town where business and finance classes weren't available, he grew to value the importance of making these crucial topics more accessible.

He emphasizes that teaching personal finance isn't about showing his students how to be millionaires or how to pick stocks. Instead, he strives to encourage a broad understanding of the topics to help prevent them from making financial mistakes later in life. In most cases, financial topics such as budgeting, saving, taxes, paychecks and employer forms have not been broached with the students before. The vast majority have little knowledge of these topics, and only some students receive this education at home.

The biggest lesson he teaches is that money is not something to be afraid of. He teaches his students to not be intimidated by topics such as homeowners insurance, car insurance, umbrella policies and annuities. "Not every kid wants to work in finance, but everyone needs to use it," explained Steven.

Steven Klimkiewicz

What's unique about Steven's teaching methods is that he front-loads his courses with the most important lessons and teaches them first to ensure they get covered. As an elective teacher, he has the ability to make sure students grasp important concepts and take more time on lessons that students may have more difficulty learning. He recognizes that students learn in different ways and uses as many different mediums as he can, opting for more engaging media such as videos and discussion versus traditional textbook learning.

Last year was the launch of Hellgate's Finance Academy, which provides educational pathways to career fields in accounting, banking and financial planning. The goal is for 100 students per year to enroll in the academy and for 10 percent of Hellgate High to take finance courses. Students who are not in the academy can still take the class, making it more inclusive for the whole school to benefit from. An internship system was designed for students to sit down with business partners and gain insight into their work lives and experience. Students are given the opportunity to work with partners in accounting, banking and financial services on a broad scale. "Our business partners love working with students," explains Steven. Students in the Finance Academy have the flexibility of being able to take AP classes and participate in other activities, making it a truly immersive experience.

Each one of Steven's courses, including Personal Finance, Advanced Personal Finance, 21st Century Career Essentials, Business Economics and Technology Tools, are uniquely tailored with varied approaches. Steven takes a macro approach to his Business Economics class with hands-on lessons and activities that connect with the real world. To teach students about supply and demand, he took his class on a field trip to the Helena, MT branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Steven Klimkiewicz

The 21st Century Career Essentials class focuses on assessing what students would be most adept in pursuing as a career. Many of his students haven't considered their life after high school, so the lessons first concentrate on personality assessments to determine what jobs match best with students' interests. Students then research their desired professions and create a presentation with their findings.

The curriculum for the Advanced Finance Class was developed by Steven himself, and focuses on teaching students to utilize tools and skills that they can apply in the real world. Two thirds of semester is spent on accumulating wealth, while one third is on how to protect wealth. He has built a network of professionals who he brings into the classroom, including those working in finance and business.

The personal finance teachers at Hellgate, including Steven, leverage relationships with community business partners to come into the classroom and discuss various topics to make the concepts feel more real. A few guest speakers included an insurance agent, a local bank loan officer and a Hellgate High alum who was ranked the 17th most powerful woman in banking in 2013 in the U.S. by American Banker.

The success of Steven's teaching is evident in his students improved personal finance habits. One student was able to buy her first car after taking Steven's Personal Finance class, saying that she knew how much she could afford and it made the whole process less intimidating. Another student received a full scholarship to attend the University of Montana after completing the unit on college expenses and student loans. All of his students participate in pre- and post-assessments, though Steven is interested in exploring other methods to measure success than tests.

Along with other teachers at Hellgate, Steven is trying to make personal finance a requirement for graduation. "Every student coming out of high school will be a financial decision maker, and they need the tools necessary to be success," explains Steven. He also participates in open house nights and parent teacher conferences to get involved with the parent community.

Practical Money Skills would like to commend Steven Klimkiewicz for his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Hellgate High School.

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