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The bravest of the special education teachers at the Financial Fitness for Life workshop volunteered to take part in the mock finance challenge.  Teachers who know what to expect can better prepare their students for the opportunity.

SELENA SWARTZFAGER — Economic and financial literacy education meets thought leadership

SELENA SWARTZFAGER

SELENA SWARTZFAGER

A thoughtful leader is what I strive to be.  In June, I attended a session at the Stock Market Game Symposium in New York City where I heard from Vanessa Wakeman of the Wakeman Agency on what it means to be a thought leader.  Webster’s Dictionary says it is “one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.”  Vanessa Wakeman states it is “an individual that commits to contributing valuable, original thinking and fresh ideas on a subject to benefit the greater good.  The individual is in service to the issue or innovation with the goal of fostering change.”  While I don’t know that I meet the Webster’s Dictionary definition, I definitely relate to Vanessa’s definition.

Being an employee of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE), I have the opportunity to work in the field of education as well as the field of non-profits.   What a delightful combination this is.  No two days are ever the same.  The field of education is ever changing as are non-profits.  Additionally, under the leadership of an outstanding Board of Directors, this non-profit is run as a business.  We run a tight ship, measuring the outcomes of everything we do to ensure we are good stewards of the support we receive for our mission.  I believe it is especially important to be a thought leader when it comes to cultivating partnerships with others that can help you meet your mission while you help them meet theirs.  During FY2015 I had the opportunity to do just this with the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities (MSCDD).  MCEE received support from MSCDD for a project titled, “Financial Literacy for Economic Self-sufficiency.”  This support allowed us to provide professional development in financial literacy education to 110 special education teachers on our research based curriculum titled Financial Fitness for Life (FFFL).  When you consider we committed to reaching 50 special education teachers, this program has been very successful.  We exceeded our goal by 126%.  I would say there is a high demand for these resources.

The 110 teachers reached by this program now have the opportunity to include FFFL lessons into the IEPs for their students.  The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written document required for each child who is eligible to receive special education services. It is provided to a student who has been determined first to have a disability and, second, to need special education services because of that disability.  I have just begun to survey the teachers that received professional development and resources from MCEE and have found that of the six teachers that have replied, one is no longer in the special education classroom, one had already completed the students’ IEPs for 2015/2016 by the time she received the professional development so she pledges to incorporate FFFL into seven of seven (100%) IEPS for the 2016/2017 school year and the remaining four teachers have incorporated FFFL into 34 out 44 IEPS (77%).

So many young people with developmental disabilities are yearning for the opportunity to grow into self-sufficient adults.  A large part of this process is knowing how to manage money.  We have teachers throughout Mississippi working their hardest to help their students achieve this goal.  I am humbled to be able to be a part of this process by providing support to the teachers.

On June 18, 2015 I presented at the Mississippi Disability MegaConference where I had the opportunity to talk about this new program with stakeholders.  The audience provided wonderful feedback on how we can make the program better.  That is a good thing since we have received support once again to provide professional development to special education teachers during the 2015/2016 school year.  This year the training will focus on entrepreneurship for special education teachers and their students.  The opportunity to grow the Creative Economy in the developmentally disabled population is exciting.  As I talk with my colleagues in other states, none of them are working with their state council on developmental disabilities.  As a result of the success in Mississippi, some of them are exploring this partnership in their states.  I am happy to be a part of creating a partnership between the state council on economic education and the state council on developmental disabilities.  Together we can certainly foster change for those in our society who need this education on a level that works for them.

Of course, I am not the only thought leader in this partnership.  The funding for this project comes to MCEE through a competitive grant process from the MSCDD via the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.  The members of the MSCDD Council are also thought leaders as they had the vision to see how the mission of MCEE, which is to increase economic and financial literacy in Mississippi by providing resources and training to public and private K-12 school teachers, empowering students to create a more prosperous future for themselves and Mississippi, also meets their mission to promote quality of life for people with developmental disabilities, their families, and the community at large. Improvement in quality of life is accomplished through initiatives that promote advocacy, capacity building, and systems change.

» Selena Swartzfager is president of the Mississippi Council for Economic Education. She can be reached at swartsc@millsaps.edu.

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  1. Being financially literate in the 21st century is far more than understanding how to balance a checking account or compare credit card rates. In this complex and increasingly globalized world, financial literacy requires knowledge about global commerce, business, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

    The 21st Century Student’s Guide to Financial Literacy offers 17 classroom-ready, easy-to-teach lessons in “big picture” financial literacy topics including the evolution of money, the rise of capitalism, currency, venture capital, startups, intellectual property, securities and stock markets, wealth disparity, and global free trade agreements.Students learn about the roles of such powerful institutions as the SEC, USPTO, Federal Reserve Bank, IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization, G7, G20, and Eurozone, and much more.

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