October 20th, 2014

Financial Management Class

As a business owner, what is your ethical responsibility if customer records are hacked? Or, when you donate to a charity, do you simply give upon request, or do you evaluate the organization? Students in Bronwyn Burford’s class at Jackson Academy are learning to thoroughly evaluate such cases.

It is all part of a financial management class that teaches students life skills important for personal finance as well as for effective workplace business literacy. The class is made up of students in 10th-12th grades and is an elective offered for the second year at JA.

Students delve into topics such as the cost of college, finding the right career and making a budget, including balancing their checkbook. They learn about understanding their values and financial goals. Burford, who has a bachelor’s in professional accountancy from Mississippi State University and an MBA from Mississippi College, hopes students will develop awareness of how to incorporate financial concepts into their lives now and in the years to come so that they make sound financial decisions.

In keeping with the 21st century teacher as facilitator model, Burford develops lesson plans that involve active and self-directed learning. Students participate in simulations of what they might experience in the real world. For instance, in the example of donating to a charity, class members select three groups that interest them. They then research the organizations, looking for the tax ID and business information, charity reviews, positive or negative news coverage, the group’s finances, its track record, its public transparency and its spending. They read from the “Governor’s Report on Charitable Giving” and other resources on charitable accountability.

“We use other simulations or case studies about researching and buying a car, saving, banking, credit, income taxes, purchasing a home and exploring insurance,” said Burford. “The hands-on nature of the course gets students accustomed to using the tools needed, such as the Internet for research and online and mobile banking. The course teaches students how to make judgments and decisions based on the information they collect. The activities drive students to think about what choices they are making in all these important areas.”

Students study consumer behavior so they understand merchandising and the motivating factors at play when they make purchases at the grocery store, convenience store or online; they develop spending plans and practice purchasing a home or car within certain spending limits; and they study communication and negotiation skills necessary for purchasing a home or car.

One feature of the class that has been particularly popular is expert speakers.  “Students are just in awe of some of our speakers,” said Burford. “They hang on every word.”

Experts from the community who have shared what is going on in their field include a bank president, a real estate agency owner, a guidance counselor, an accountant and a director of marketing. The bank president provided valuable tips on financial safety when using credit cards, debit cards and online banking. Several of the guest speakers have been female executives, which Burford says has been beneficial to all, but especially to the 10 girls in the class.

“As JA looked ahead to the skills students would need to be successful in the 21st century, we found that financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy would be significant,” said Cliff Kling, president.

“Inviting female executives to our class helps girls encounter successful business women and view their work as a potential career option. They see women who are confident, professional and manage a work life as well as a home life,” she said.

JA senior Ann Elizabeth Walker of Jackson, who plans to major in finance in college, says the class has helped her choose a career path. “The class did personality studies to help show you what type work you’d be good at, your values and how you’d carry your values into your job,” she said. She said students have also investigated which colleges offer academic programs in their areas of interest.

“As JA looked ahead to the skills students would need to be successful in the 21st century, we found that financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy would be significant,” said Cliff Kling, president. “We envisioned a class that would help students make sound personal financial choices, enhance their workplaces with positive business and entrepreneurial skills, and possess an understanding of the economy of our society.”

The class is both visionary and practical. “The financial management class helps students develop important life skills. Through this class they learn how to evaluate information critically, such as choosing a health insurance plan or evaluating an investment. They also learn to make judgments about the information presented to them, such as analyzing media or marketing used to influence their opinion or purchasing behavior,” said Pat Taylor, headmaster.

So whether evaluating the opportunity to support a worthwhile cause, setting a family budget or making ethical business decisions, these students will have the tools to make confident and informed choices.