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Rock River Charter teaching students financial basics

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Nick Crow
July 18, 2014

JANESVILLE — Learning financial responsibility is a step toward adulthood for teenagers.

But many students don't know the basics, said Kathleen Kleisner, instructor of a personal finance class being piloted at Rock River Charter School this summer.

"The whole point is to prepare seniors for life outside of high school," Kleisner said. "We're covering the basics. That is why we have the class."

Kleisner is leading a condensed version of the class during summer school. It teaches students things like opening a bank account, how to manage credit cards and the risks of quick cash stores and rent-to-own businesses, she said.

"Many of these students have no idea," Kleisner said. "We did some math with the students to show them things like paying the minimum on a credit card and how many years it takes to pay for things. They were shocked by how much it ends up being."

It is such lessons students need for their everyday lives, said Angela Burdette, dean of students at Rock River Charter.

"Whether it's checking, savings, credit cards, loans, interest," Burdette said. "These are all typical things you use for your daily life. We're all about their academic achievement and getting them what they need for the next stage of life."

The class, which will be taught in full beginning this fall, will be a requirement for all graduates in the district starting with the class of 2016, Kleisner said.

"Some of the things we will teach in the fall are shopping for groceries on a budget, student loans, car buying and rent," Kleisner said. "Sometimes they get themselves into binds, a roommate will move out, and we want to cover what to do in much greater detail."

Rock River Charter Principal Lisa Peterson said an additional benefit to the class will be showing students how to apply for financial aid to continue their education after high school.

"We want to show them the difference in wage earning potential and how to apply for financial aid," Peterson said. "The goal is to keep students engaged and involved."

Kleisner hopes teaching the students real world scenarios will help tie in what they're learning in other classes.

"The key to this class is linking it to the real world," Kleisner said. "They're the ones who will have to make the decisions."

As a part of the summer course, students participated in a simulated budget exercise that let them choose their own path and learn from the consequences of their choices.

"Some of the kids say, 'I want a Lexus or a big house,'" Kleisner said. "Then they have to see what it looks like in reality and realize how much bills actually cost when they are on a fixed income."

"So many of them have no idea what they're facing," she said. "It's a good class. We've needed it."



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