Stuyvesant’s new personal finance options are a great start. Now, let’s make it mandatory.

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others who think and write about public education.

When I got my first salary for working on a political campaign and almost a third was spent on taxes, I was shocked because I was only making minimum wage. I shrugged off assuming this is why grown-ups are always complaining about taxes.

As I recounted this as a coming-of-age story to a family friend, someone explained to me that I could possibly get some money back if I filed a tax return in the following April. While the financial terms flew over my head, I perked up immediately at the talk about tax refunds. I didn’t know this was possible, and I’m not alone.

Headshot of teenage girl wearing hoop earrings and white blouse.

Many high school students are about to face one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives: how to pay for college. But many of us are not ready to make this decision and many others will follow – from paying rent to using credit cards to saving for the proverbial rainy day. What we don’t know about money management may follow us for decades to come.

I went to Stuyvesant High School, where students can take 30 AP classes and choose over 50 electives. But until now, there is no personal finance class. Students who graduate are well prepared for college, but are often clueless about managing their money.

In 2021, I written in my high school paper, The Stuyvesant Spectator, on the need for financial literacy education; My piece pushed Stuyvesant to make a personal finance elective the following school year. I was pleased with the school administration’s response to the article but soon realized that simply offering classes was not enough. In a class of more than 800 students, only 8% of seniors can take the course.

Unable to register due to high demand, I sat in on the class several times. I watched as seniors reviewed their college acceptances and financial aid packages, and was shown how to budget with real numbers. In another lesson, they learn about marketing tactics used by companies to lure customers; students create their own imaginary company using that strategy to understand how to avoid falling for misleading marketing claims.

Financial literacy is not a topic that only a few students need to understand. It’s like a health class: a critical field of knowledge every high school needs (yes, even if that means yet another graduation requirement). Recognizing this, the editorial board of The Stuyvesant Spectator published a special issue entitled “The Stocktator” to promote the class and its expansion. We talked to teachers, students, and alumni to find out what students want and need from a financial literacy class.

A bill that would require schools to offer and students to complete a financial literacy course is in committee in the New York State Senate.

We found that 89% of students surveyed did not know how to get a college loan, and 92% of students wanted more financial education. Alumni share stories of abusing credit, filling out federal financial aid paperwork without parental help, going into huge debt, and still not understanding how to do their taxes.

In response to the demand and advocacy of students through journalism, our administration expanded the personal finance course from one to two parts, but without state mandates, it is difficult to offer it to everyone. More than a dozen states personal finance education mandate for high school, but New York – the nation’s financial capital – is not one of them.

New York State now requires an economics class (required for graduation) to touch on personal finance, but in reality, at least one semester is needed to introduce topics such as budgeting, banking basics, buying vs. renting, insurance, identity theft, and credit. score.

There are many high schools that do not have the resources to start personal finance classes without a state mandate. A the bill which requires schools to offer and students complete a financial literacy course is under committee in the New York State Senate.

I’m hoping to be lucky enough to snag a spot in Stuyvesant’s personal finance class next semester because I still don’t know how to get a college loan or how to protect myself from identity theft. I’m still confused about the difference between a checking and savings account, and I don’t know what my credit score is. While I got my tax refund, the process was so complicated that I let my dad figure it out. But I’m almost an adult, and I don’t want to start an independent life limited by a lack of financial literacy.

High school students are very focused on scores when it comes to their SAT, ACT, and GPA. But few of us know enough about the score that will follow us through adulthood: our credit score. After high school, some people will no longer solve calculus problems. Our test scores and GPAs will fade into insignificant measures of past achievement. But each of us needs to manage our finances. That’s what we have to learn.

Anisha Singhal is a senior at Stuyvesant High School and the opinion editor of the school newspaper, The Stuyvesant Spectator. He is an advocate for financial literacy and a football player. You can often find her Citi Biking around New York City.

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