Hopedale Junior-Senior High School Hopedale, Massachusetts
Talitha Oliveri's teaching career has been shaped by her desire to enrich students' lives in a way that is deep, meaningful and lasting. Talitha, fondly known as "Mrs. O" by her students, originally started her career as a math teacher, a subject she taught for 15 years. During her last three years teaching math at Hopedale Junior-Senior High School (HJSHS), she started to look for a course that would combine elements of math and business to teach finance in a way that would be relevant to her students. She came across a financial algebra course that ultimately reshaped her teaching career.
"As I learned more about financial literacy, it became a platform where I felt I could truly make a difference," says Talitha. "While as a mathematics teacher I could have an impact on their current life as a student and their direction, financially literacy could have an impact on their whole lives."
Now, in addition to Financial Algebra, Talitha teaches a quarter-long financial literacy course that is required for all of the seniors at HJSHS. She has aligned this class with a Financial Literacy Fair, a program made possible with a grant from the Massachusetts Office of Economic Empowerment. The grant is typically given to Credit for Life Fairs, but she expanded upon this concept to create an all-encompassing event that would give students a taste of the financial decisions they will have to make when they enter the workforce.
"I put a different spin on the event by incorporating the hiring process," explains Talitha. "It's not just about budgeting money, you need to be working and have the job before you have money to spend."
Leading up to the event, Talitha promotes and engage students in financial literacy learning with a vigorous public relations campaign.
"With the help of my FinFit4life student team, I was able to plan and implement a financial literacy campaign that reached the entire school population of HJSHS, 575 students," explains Talitha. "The Financial Literacy Public Relations campaign began in in 2015, creating the brand FinFit4Life with the slogan ‘Change your life, become financially fit!'"
The campaign incorporated social media outreach, an appearance on a local morning radio segment promoting financial literacy, attending school committee meetings and canvassing the entire school with financial facts and advice gathered from faculty members.
This year, Talitha expanded the program to include juniors as well as seniors, so that she can analyze how the dual exposure may further increase their comfortability with these necessary financial literacy skills.
Additionally, leading up to the fair juniors and seniors were attended training classes sessions that taught them the four steps to financial fitness: Define Your Financial Goals, Track your Spending, Ready, Set, Budget! and Make a Plan for your Future Financial Fitness. During the hiring process, students were also instructed to choose an occupation based on their interests, fill out job applications, and fill out surveys regarding their comfort level with financial literacy. At a student lead training, students completed W-4s and I-9s in addition to discussing professional etiquette and the logistics of the upcoming fair.
At the fair booths were set up with business professionals and parent volunteers to help guide students in everything from deciding retirement contribution percentages to daily expenditure decisions like housing and transportation. Talitha explains, "With all that said, a question that might be better asked is what financial literacy concepts weren't covered by the fair!"
According to Talitha, the fair would not be possible without the help from her DECA students. DECA is an international association of college and high school students and teachers of marketing, management and entrepreneurship. The organization prepares students for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, business, and management through competitions, projects and conferences. Talitha advises the HJSHS DECA team, a position she took over when she moved to her school's business department. Talitha herself was a DECA student when she was in high school, a program that helped her receive her scholarship to college.
"It comes full circle," Talitha says. "I teach a lot using personal stories. I was very fortunate to receive a full tuition scholarship when I went to college. I explain that to my students not to make them feel bad, but so they can take that and understand that I would not be where I am today financially if I didn't have that opportunity afforded to me."
The DECA team is also planning to works with the local elementary schools to promote financial literacy through student outreach. This is closely tied to Talitha's belief that financial education should be universally accessible.
"I know this is a lofty goal," says Talitha. "But I think across the country that mandatory financial literacy courses and experiences would help prevent financial illiteracy."
It is Talitha's hope that this experience help students connect with financial education at a younger age, so students can begin to identify saving and budgeting concepts early on. Later down the road, this helps students to make informed choices that contribute to both their financial and mental well-being.
Talitha emphasizes the importance of not only providing financial literacy courses but also financial literacy experiences, saying "You can't learn without a connection between doing and hearing. I think we, as educators, sometimes forget to put ourselves in students' shoes." By expanding HJSHS students' experiences to include the Financial Literacy fair and introducing a student outreach program to the elementary school, Talitha hopes to do just that.
In addition to her work with the DECA team to expand financial literacy education, they have also been paramount in collecting data on the success of the Financial Literacy Fair. In total, 69 percent of attendees reported that the fair increased their confidence in managing money in the real world and 84 percent of seniors reported that participating in the program increased their knowledge of how much things cost. 89 percent said they learned the relationship between career choice and income by participating.
Though there is statistical evidence of the program's success, for Talitha, it is the feedback she receives directly from her students that makes the job rewarding. "When students say to me ‘Mrs. O, I just opened a checking account,' or ‘I bought my first car today,' those are the kinds of moments that really inspire me because those are the types of decisions that will impact them for the rest of their lives," says Talitha.
Through her commitment to providing students with financial literacy experiences, it is likely she will keep experiencing those moments where her students become success stories.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Talitha Oliveri for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Hopedale Junior-Senior High School.