By Joan Rosenbaum, 5th Grade Social Studies and Economics Teacher, North Star Public Charter School, Idaho.
Every year I take my students through a personal financing/budgeting unit, and I try to make it as real as possible. I am fortunate to have a guest speaker come to my classroom and explain the importance of having good insurance, which is definitely an important part of one’s budget.
One year I had a student who came to me and told me he didn’t want to pay for insurance. I asked him if he was really sure he wanted go through life without insurance. He told me he thought it would be a waste of his money. Since economics has everything to do with choices, I agreed to let him not pay insurance, but asked him if he was really sure about his choice he was making. He assured me that he did not want to include that in his budget.
My students know that when they go through the real world experience through our mini economy system, there is a chance of getting in an “accident.” The students write scenarios of a real accident that could happen on a 3×5 card, and I file them. Throughout the year, a siren comes on, and the kids know someone has been in an accident. I pull one of the scenarios from the file and draw a name of one student – and that student just got in an accident. We go through the lesson of cost; for example a car accident and the student’s back was injured and that student needs back surgery. If the student bought insurance, he understands the importance of it when we do the math together.
One day the siren blew, and the student who had chosen not to buy insurance was the accident victim. The accident that he had was indeed very expensive. He ended up losing his entire savings and mini economy money in order to pay for his hospital bills. He was saving that money to pay for his carnival tickets at the end of the school year.
This had to be one of the hardest lessons I would have to teach my students. I stuck to my guns and told him he chose not to buy insurance therefore he would have to pay for all his medical bills with money he had in his savings or earnings.
I had to stick to our agreement when it came time for the school carnival, which meant he would not be getting any tickets. Two amazing things came from this lesson at the end of the year. When I asked my students to write a paper about what they learned, this student wrote about the importance of having insurance and how much it would save money and at the end of his paper he wrote, “I will never, ever, ever go without insurance the rest of my life!”
And to make this story a happy ending, the class asked me if it would be possible if they could have a money drive for their classmate who didn’t have any money for the carnival tickets. Each one of those students pitched in money so their classmate would have tickets for the carnival. I told the class they just learned what the “American Way” was all about. The students learned responsibility, compassion and empathy in that lesson, but above all, they learned how to help others when in need.
Teaching economics to my students brings real understandings of our choices, good and bad.