AUGUSTA – As Congress and the Obama administration move closer to new laws intended to strengthen the nation’s financial sector and safeguard Americans from risks, we shouldn’t lose sight of a simple fact closer to home:

Each of us has a responsibility to be educated about personal finance and the pitfalls that can yield money problems for ourselves and our families.

Perhaps more importantly, we have an obligation to share this insight with future generations.

With this in mind, the state’s first Financial Literacy Summit for parents and educators was held last month in Augusta. With support from The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, this inaugural event brought experts together to showcase best practices for incorporating financial literacy instruction in classrooms and beyond.

More than 150 educators were given practical tools to help students become financially capable adults. Participants received a variety of materials, including a computer thumb drive containing curriculum resources.

Organized by Maine’s Office of Securities and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, the event’s organizers started with a belief that young people must be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for a secure financial future.

Former Gov. Angus King called on teachers to include financial education throughout the school experience, not merely as a stand-alone subject. The event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Jeanne Hogarth of the Federal Reserve Bank, cited a study showing that students who were more aware of finances in their homes exhibited fewer negative financial behaviors as young adults than those who never talked about finances at home.

Gov. John Baldacci reminded us that enhancing financial literacy takes a team effort. He noted that readying future generations to be wise consumers requires partnerships.

“Teachers, school counselors and administrators have a key role to play, and along with financial institutions, nonprofits, government and parents, we all must work to be proactive in educating our youth and leading by example,” Baldacci said.

While many lessons were learned during the summit, here are a few key points:

Parents and teachers will have a greater impact if they make financial literacy instruction relevant — relating it to something kids deal with regularly. The typical teenager may have more interest in the subject if presented in a way that helps her determine the cost difference between purchasing a CD versus downloading the three songs she really likes from iTunes.

Financial literacy can be incorporated into the teaching of almost anything. Teach reading by having students review financial documents that may soon be very important to them, such as credit card statements or mortgages.

Teach history by asking students to write about a successful business person in history, like Fred Smith, whose college paper became the idea behind his company, FedEx.

Teach math by having students calculate the amount they would earn investing a month’s worth of allowance.

And teach technology and design by having students create business-focused websites.

Financial education needs to start in elementary school and continue through adulthood. Needs change as we age — from learning how to count, to paying for college textbooks, to managing a family budget, to providing for long-term care in our twilight years.

Educators should encourage students to share classroom lessons with their parents and other family members. How many times have adults changed bad habits because of lessons their children brought home from school?

I want to thank MaineToday Media and other summit sponsors: Bangor Savings Bank, Maine’s Credit Unions, the Maine Society of Certified Public Accountants, NextGen, the Council for Economic Education, Practical Money Skills for Life, and MaineBiz.

We look forward to working with them and others to further strengthen financial literacy in schools and homes across our state.

We encourage parents and teachers to follow financial reform efforts in Washington, but to also begin the financial literacy conversation with the young people in their lives.

A secure financial future for our children may depend on negotiations in Congress, but it also requires meaningful discussions and instruction around the dinner table at home and before the chalkboard in our classrooms.


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