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EDUCATOR SPOTLIGHT


It's our pleasure to recognize and highlight Maryland educators from across grade bands and content areas to showcase how they successfully share personal finance and economics concepts with their students. If you know of an innovative teacher who we should spotlight, please let us know!


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  • February 08, 2024 9:37 AM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)

    Jaci Drass

    Urbana Elementary

    Frederick County Public Schools

    Jaci Drass, a first grade teacher at Urbana Elementary in Frederick County, is always looking for content that will interest her students as she explores creative approaches to teaching. And for 19 years, it’s led to strong interest from her students in discussions about personal finance and eager participation in MCEE’s Poster Contest.

    “I don’t think you can start teaching personal finance early enough,” explained Jaci. “As students get older, they need this information in life. Plus, they really, really like it!”

    To begin to make them aware of concepts in personal finance, Jaci engages her students in conversations about financial decisions. For example, when she needs to purchase something for their classroom, she talks with her students to think of options and the price of each item.

    “Involving kids in those decisions teaches them the personal finance habits of being a thoughtful shopper and consumer. Sometimes they may want a more pricey product, such as a Disney puzzle. But after talking about the benefits and options for high-quality affordable alternatives, the lessons come easy.”

    In Frederick County,  the social studies curriculum includes a unit on economics. “The unit is helpful, but  I’m always looking for ways to add some extra enriching activities. That’s where MCEE comes in,” said Jaci.

    To increase student engagement and understanding, Jaci encourages her students to participate in MCEE’s A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words Poster Contest. Her entire class participates, and some of her students are usually selected as winners. Jaci’s students have made posters about scarcity, goods and services, and even productive resources.

    Jaci feels that “kids at this age often express themselves better through art than words. The Poster Contest makes that easy.” Every year, Jaci takes her winning students to MCEE’s Annual Awards event. “The kids love heading to Towson for the event! They return to school very proud, touting their medals.”

    Jaci also takes advantage of MCEE’s resources for educators, including tips on the MCEE website with ideas for applying important lessons in the classroom. Find those resources and learn more, here.
  • October 02, 2023 5:44 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)


    Vann Prime

    Mt. Hebron High

    Howard County Public Schools




    When students at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City first walk into Vann Prime’s AP Economics classroom, many don’t know what to expect. To them, economics might mean complex accounting or business earnings’ analyses. But when class begins, they’re captivated.

    Vann is telling a story of how Mexico City, one of the world’s most polluted cities, enacted a law where citizens can only drive every other day based on their license plate numbers. The animated class discussion ranges from possible license plate forgeries to the implications of buying another car. Through it all, Vann links students’ observations to fundamental economic concepts like scarcity, opportunity cost, incentives and unintended consequences.

    To students who expected to be learning wonky formulas or complicated concepts, the conversation may have been surprising. But if you ask Vann, who is now in his 19th year of teaching, it shouldn’t be.

    “Economics concepts are applicable to everyone at every moment of their life. It's about the choices we make every day. I teach students by focusing on the basics and applying them to real world experiences. In a decade, they may not remember the intricacies of monetary policy, but if they can remember concepts like scarcity, costs and benefits, and demand, they’ll make better decisions in life. Economics is the intellectual underpinning for good decision making - including in personal finance.”

    More than 150 Mount Hebron students take the elective class each year, making it one of the largest AP Economics programs in Maryland. Vann works with MCEE to leverage educational resources, and his students compete in MCEE’s Economics Challenge - Mount Hebron students have won the Maryland Economics Challenge state championship 18 times and the national championship seven times, including last year! “We've grown a very close relationship over the years. I would do anything to help MCEE and to promote economics education statewide. It’s so important.

    Vann’s impactful teaching is garnering attention. Last year, he won the Council on Economic Education’s  John Morton Award - a prestigious national honor for excellence in the teaching of economics - stemming from nominations by MCEE of our state’s strongest educators.

    Says Vann, “It's so vital to good citizenship and making good human beings to understand that nothing is free; if kids can embrace that, I'm happy. This kind of learning is one of the greatest educational gifts we could pass on to young people.”

  • September 01, 2023 3:42 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)

    Kevin Cromer

    Benjamin Tasker Middle

    Prince George's County Public Schools



    Kevin Cromer, a teacher at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Prince George’s County, began one of his lessons with a look at the news. He scrolled online through stories until he saw one about student loan forgiveness. That was the impetus for mock-debates and discussions with his students about loans.The learning progression for students was simple and natural, and that made it impactful. “First, we discussed why people take out loans,” explained Kevin. “This naturally led the discussion toward savings, which then fed right into talking about investing. After that, we began MCEE’s Stock Market Game™ and Investwrite, and students really took off with it.”

    This inquiry-based approach in an AVID Class - a college and career readiness elective - reflects Kevin’s teaching style during his 29 year career; he identifies something relevant to students, turns it into a discussion point, and encourages their questions and ideas to drive home lessons. Students take AVID every other day, where they explore critical thinking, inquiry, and self-advocacy. By going a step further and incorporating MCEE resources, Kevin’s students will be ahead in terms of personal finance, which is now a mandatory course for high school graduation in Prince George's County Public Schools.

    And MCEE’s guidance and resources support Kevin’s process through fun student activities, detailed background information, and helpful prompts. “This learning is crucial. When I was growing up, we didn’t learn about financial literacy,” he explained. “We’re now helping students build skills and habits that will stick with them for life.” I teach students about managing money by making plans for their college expenses. They learn to figure out what college will cost, research how much things will cost, and create a budget for how to spend their money.”

    Inspired by their personal finance education, some of Kevin’s students opened savings accounts during class. Others shared their experiences learning about personal finance with their families. “I’ve had parents tell me how their child is excited to learn more and how they’re watching news and doing research on their own.”  Students aren’t the only ones learning through MCEE’s programs. Said Kevin, “I didn’t know much about the stock market when getting started, but MCEE changed that. They answer questions, visit classrooms, and guide teachers every step of the way with lesson plans, videos and workshops.”

    Kevin has also taken advantage of the class field trip opportunity offered by MCEE in partnership with the Towson University CBE. The field trip includes a visit to the Finance Lab on the TU campus where students learn about compound interest and investment research in a simulated wall street trading floor experience. To assist his students with synthesizing what they have learned about personal finance and investing, Kevin encouraged his students to submit essays for the InvestWrite writing competition. One of his students submitted an essay that won first prize in the State of Maryland! Read the essay here. This year, he hopes to turn the Stock Market Game™ into an after school program. 

    “Go for it,” advises Kevin. “Even if you feel like you don’t know enough as a teacher, don’t be nervous. MCEE is there to help; take their courses, access their resources. You don’t need to be an expert to have success.”

  • April 24, 2023 1:18 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)


    Kimberly Jackson

    Gaithersburg High

    Montgomery County Public Schools


    Kimberly Jackson has two sayings she tells her students repeatedly: “just because you have money doesn’t mean you know or understand money,” and “nobody plans to fail, they just fail to plan.”

    The lessons in these phrases illustrate Kimberly’s thoughtful approach to teaching personal-finance. For the past 23 years, she has taught business and accounting in Montgomery County with the past 13 years at Gaithersburg  High School. While Gaithersburg High doesn’t offer a dedicated course in personal finance, Kimberly is stepping up to ensure students are exploring personal finance concepts that will change their lives - infusing this learning into class conversations and sponsoring an extracurricular club. In doing so, she has been leveraging MCEE resources and competitions.

    “By the time my students reach my classroom, they care about and think about money,” explained Kimberly. “And through honest conversations about personal finance, students see quickly that this is information they want and need in order to be successful. From there, the questions and ‘ah-hah’ moments come naturally. MCEE is a great help in providing activities, lessons, and resources that enhance these conversations.”

    12 years ago, Kimberly began sponsoring “The Millionaire's Club” - an extracurricular student group that meets twice a month to learn about personal finance, hear from guest speakers, and compete in activities like the Stock Market Game™. Today, the club boasts more than 40 students - one of the more popular clubs in the school.   Kimberly’s determined and flexible approach to teaching personal finance - sponsoring a club, sparking class conversations and creating lessons and projects in spite of there being no dedicated class, is an immeasurable benefit to her students.

    “We recently did a lesson where I challenged students to pick a college and look up the full cost of attending,” said Kimberly. “Some students came back thinking a one-year's worth of tuition was what the full four years cost. It was an eye-opening experience that demonstrates how much this education is needed.”

    Students in Kimberly’s classes are exploring credit, learning simple tips for saving (“save your change!” says Kimberly), and understanding interest, long term growth of stocks, and college expenses. Kimberly also works with MCEE to guide students in the Stock Market Game™ and the Personal Finance Challenge.

    “These concepts can apply to any subject. And many of my students may not have been exposed to these conversations or concepts at home. A student approached me the other day and said everyone is telling them to go to college, but nobody is taking the time to discuss the costs. This needs to change.”  The lessons learned are sticking with students - growth Kimberly knows is imperative for their futures.

    “We set students up for financial challenges if we don’t give them tools to navigate their finances after high school,” said Kimberly. “Students need to hear these messages over and over again. Anyone who can share personal finance knowledge with students - no matter the subject you teach or the role you play - will enhance their learning opportunities should do so.”

  • March 22, 2023 2:04 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)



    Amy Cargiulo

    Waverly Elementary

    Howard County Public Schools

    For almost two decades, Amy Cargiulo has witnessed first-hand the power of personal finance education. As a fifth grade Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher at Waverly Elementary in Howard County, she finds it on the faces of students participating in MCEE’s Stock Market Game™, in the insightful questions they bring from home, and in the stories she hears from former students!  


    Today, Amy guides more than 100 students a year to be part of the Stock Market Game™. And throughout their experience, she encourages them to remember something important: always reflect! 


    “I want my students talking and thinking about what they are learning as much as possible,” she says. “And with something as fun and hands-on as the Stock Market Game™, that’s no problem. Students excitedly discuss ideas and questions non-stop - even bringing conversations home and questions to the class from their families.” 


    Those reflections result in thoughtful student essays submitted to MCEE’s Investwrite competition, a Stock Market Game™ companion program that challenges participants to share their experiences and lessons. Her students are thinking deeper, and through participation in Investwrite, organizing what they learn into a narrative - thereby retaining the information and setting themselves up for success. Amy ensures all of her students participating in the Stock Market Game™ enter Investwrite. 


    To help, MCEE is on hand to answer questions and provide regular workshops and educator sessions that give teachers the context, expertise, and strategies they need to make the most of student participation in these engaging competitions (educators can check out the MCEE event calendar for the latest!). 


    It’s clear from student essay responses that the approach sticks. Amy regularly welcomes former students back to class to share their journeys towards financial success thanks to lessons learned in her class. She even helped some former students start a Stock Market Game club at the high school they now attend! 


    Amy’s introduction to personal finance education in the classroom began almost twenty years ago, when “a colleague was working with MCEE on the Stock Market Game™ before she literally fell off a horse, and had me jump in and cover the program! She thankfully ended up being okay, but I was enthralled with the value of this experience for students. I dove in head first and haven’t looked back!” 


    Along the way, MCEE has been there to support her. “MCEE is absolutely wonderful. They are always available to answer any questions I have and provide resources I knew (or didn’t know!) I needed.”  That support goes both ways. Amy, now a proven, successful educator in personal finance, has served on MCEE’s advisory board - helping us refine, enhance, and improve our resources and guidance for teachers statewide - no matter the subject. 

  • February 27, 2023 2:32 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)


     Kurt Marx

    Stephen Decatur High

    Worcester County Public Schools



    Kurt Marx, Business Teacher at Stephen Decatur High School in Worcester County, starts conversations about personal finance with his students by asking questions: 1) How many of you want to be millionaires? (hands fly up) 2) How much do you think you need to save a month, at a 12% return, to become one by the time you’re my age?   “When students hear that what they need to save a month isn’t thousands, but rather just $100, they are shocked and interested,” said Kurt. “I stress the importance of personal finance and then reveal wealth’s accessibility. It engages students right away - especially those who may have never experienced this kind of thinking or known about these opportunities growing up.” 

     

    For more than 20 years, Kurt has been introducing students to personal finance in a fun and competitive learning environment that emphasizes the accessibility of financial success.  In the process, he is introducing students to opportunities, jobs, and financial aspirations they may not otherwise experience growing up in a rural, low-income community. By guiding students in MCEE’s Stock Market Game™, thePersonal Finance Challenge, and the Economics Challenge, and by relating personal finance concepts to their interests, Kurt is changing the trajectories of his students’ futures, with many taking new paths and setting new goals as a result. 

     

    Like its work with all educators, MCEE partners with Kurt to ensure he has support and access to meaningful student learning experiences in personal finance and economics.  “If we can get students involved in something they view as fun, they're significantly more likely to take something from it,” he explained. “These competitions do exactly that.”  

     

    Every semester, Kurt guides multiple student teams in the Stock Market Game™. Many have won state and regional championships. He dedicates daily class time for students to collaborate, research, and discuss their investment ideas. From there, the lessons come naturally. “We’re exploring companies, reading news, and examining how athletes spend money,” said Kurt. “Students are asking each other how things like war or inflation might impact stock prices. I don’t give them answers - I support them as they find their way toward the truth. Their enthusiasm is impossible to miss. MCEE’s programs and guidance of educators helps make this happen.” 

     

    From what Kurt has heard from parents, this enthusiasm extends beyond the classroom. “I heard from a parent that their child may not love going to school except for my class,” beamed Kurt. “Another told me she saw her son watching CNBC and researching stocks at night. It was the first time she’s seen her child passionate about something related to school. She was so proud.” 

     

    Kurt believes the Stock Market Game™ should be infused into all subjects. “No matter the class you’re teaching - from math to social studies - the game can apply. It encourages students to take in the world around them, to think critically, and to explore. No matter the subject, it encourages curiosity and learning.” 

     

    MCEE’s resources and professional development experiences - from lesson plans and curriculum aligned trainings to classroom activities - give educators the tools and understanding to apply personal finance concepts to a variety of academic subjects.  “Learning experiences like these is what makes MCEE’s support so valuable,” said Marx. “With MCEE’s guidance, we’re teaching kids that they don't have to take big risks to be wealthy.”

  • January 19, 2023 2:21 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)

           

     Karen Yancey

    Marley Elementary

    Anne Arundel County Public Schools



    When it comes to learning, there just aren’t enough hours in the day! But that’s no problem for Karen Yancey, 3rd grade teacher at Marley Elementary School in Anne Arundel County. Whether during the school day or after, Karen is working with students to build their understanding of personal finance that will enable them to make good financial decisions throughout their lives.

    During the pandemic, Karen noticed that personal finance and economics education was not being covered in traditional elementary and middle school curricula. So she created an after-school program to change that!

    Partnering with MCEE, Karen now guides 4th and 5th grade students in playing the Stock Market Game once a week after school. Three times as many students now attend the program, dubbed the Stock Market Club, compared to when it was started two years ago!

    “Kids are so curious and interested,” beamed Karen. “Many of my students have not had the opportunity to learn this content, and they get so excited - discussing stocks as they walk down the hallway, coming in daily with new questions and new research. Being exposed to this content, and this forward thinking, at a young age helps students build good habits and financial understanding. It’s a huge deal.”

    Karen’s students even bring stories of their experiences at home to discuss in school. “If a grandma visits one of my students, we discuss where they went to eat, how much it cost, what companies are benefiting, and whether they have stocks worth exploring. They even bring questions or ideas their parents may have into the classroom for discussion.” In the process, students build valuable skills like research, long-term planning, creative thinking, math, and making connections between disparate ideas.

    Karen regularly seeks out MCEE’s resources, incorporating Stock Market Game lessons, attending the annual Summit to engage with fellow educators, and even hitting the road with her students to visit the Towson University Finance Lab - an experience coordinated by MCEE. Next semester, she’ll be working with MCEE to incorporate into her teaching the children’s book Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire: The Lemonade Escapade, which is available through MCEE to educators across Maryland.

    “Any time I reach out to MCEE, they’re there for me, providing information and resources that make my job easier,” said Karen. “For many of my students, the Towson trip was the first time being on a college campus. A bunch of them kept saying they would go to Towson after high school on the way home!”

    A teacher for the last seven years, Karen understands the value of learning with her students. “In some ways, the less you think you know as a teacher, the better you are. That way, you're learning right there with the children - applying their interests to financial concepts and considerations. We look things up together and I give them ownership of finding their answers. The ah-ha moments happen every day!”

    Karen has some simple advice for teachers interested in delivering personal finance and economics education to their students. “Don't be afraid to dive in and do this, regardless of how much you know. Lean on experts like MCEE and see the power of learning together with your students.” 

  • December 06, 2022 1:12 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)


        Ed Keeler    

    Easton Middle

    Talbot County Public Schools



    For Ed Keeler, veteran social studies teacher at Easton Middle School in Talbot County, teaching personal finance and economics concepts to his eighth grade students starts by looking back. Ed is enhancing his history curriculum by connecting students with something they know and value: money.

    “Much of American history is based on capitalism,” explains Ed. “I start off talking about the age of exploration and how people took risks. I make a big deal about investing and companies being born. I can then tie that history to economics concepts like the stock market and ask my students, ‘Now, what does the future look like?’”

    MCEE’s Stock Market Game is a perfect tool for Ed’s students to explore that question.

    “Students absolutely love the game. They get geared up in collaborating, tracking stocks, and predicting the future performance of companies,” he notes. “We have countless discussions about what might be coming; will electric cars be big? What will happen with fast food? What growing companies have we overlooked? It’s the highlight of my teaching, and MCEE is a huge help in organizing the game and supporting it with lessons.”

    Ed has been teaching for 34 years and his participation with MCEE extends beyond the Stock Market Game. He regularly attends events, serves on the MCEE Teacher Advisory Board, and has worked with students on MCEE’s Investwrite essay competition. “MCEE is a fantastic resource,” he explains. “Teachers should go to them for ideas and support. It makes a difference.” 

    Says Ed, “Teachers should explain that students this age will soon be old enough to work, to save, and to take control of their finances,” he said. “I share personal experiences and the lessons I’ve learned. Students connect to that. It’s a perfect jumping off point towards learning about history and personal finance - together.” 

  • October 26, 2022 11:47 AM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)


                Julius Prezelski     

    Mount St. Joseph High

    Baltimore County Private School



    To Julius Prezelski, a personal finance teacher at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore County, the reason for teaching personal finance is simple: when students see how the lessons can impact their lives, they make connections and are immediately interested.

    “When students see the financial benefit of understanding these concepts, they’re hooked,” he explains. “Who doesn’t want to have the financial understanding necessary to become wealthy? Personal Finance is a very popular class - and by the way, it should be mandatory statewide.”

    By focusing on real-world financial considerations, including current events and leveraging MCEE resources, Mr. Prezelski has developed a curriculum that creates high demand for his classes.

    That demand is the result of Mr. Prezelski’s creativity and perseverance - and his use of the many resources available from MCEE. Early in his 26-year tenure, he persuaded school leadership to let him introduce a personal finance elective course. Eventually, more than half of the schools’ students signed up! They loved the discussions, asked thoughtful questions, and remained interested in the course topics well-after the classes were over.

    To continuously enhance the course, Mr. Prezelski partners with MCEE to deliver its lesson plans, games, and resources. “MCEE is one fantastic resource for classroom activities and professional development to make sure I maintain expertise on the latest topics, from crypto and bonds to inflation and short selling.”

    Mr. Prezelski mentors two teams each year in MCEE’s Personal Finance Challenge. “Last year, MCEE had teams create a simulated family financial plan to present. This sort of comprehensive planning and presenting experience was incredibly meaningful for students.” He also coordinates an investment club with nearly 60 active participants who meet in the mornings before school. It has become one of Mount St. Joe’s largest clubs. 

    In the last year, has completed more than 100 hours of professional development on a variety of personal finance topics - from MCEE and others. He regularly attends conferences, networks with fellow teachers. Mr. Prezelski’s passion for financial literacy the subject is clear - and it transfers to his students. He passes on his knowledge and what he gains from professional development conferences and workshops - including those provided by MCEE - to students, who are listening, and spreading the word.

    “Parents tell me all the time how their students rave about the course over dinner. It’s starting, or continuing, the conversation at home.” said Prezelski.

    Now, says Mr. Prezelski, it’s important to implement a financial education requirement across the state. “I tell my students: ‘what you’re learning here will impact you at some point in time. Whether you come from wealth or not, these are concepts you need to understand.’ A mandate would make that happen.” 


  • September 19, 2022 8:13 PM | Dawn Baker (Administrator)

    Flo Falatko     

    Cromwell Valley Elementary

    Baltimore County Public Schools


    Flo Falatko sees financial literacy as an important part of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education. And in her classroom at Cromwell Valley Elementary School in Baltimore County, she makes sure it is - by working with MCEE to deliver financial literacy lessons, hands-on experiences, and programs in ways that stick, simulate real-world economics, and are fun for students.

    “I love the energy from the students! Learning from and with them, and giving them a voice is extremely important to me,” said Falatko. “I thoroughly enjoy that aspect of teaching - and it shines through in financial literacy.”

    For 20 years, Flo has been guiding K-5th grade students as a STEAM Resource Teacher - working with every student and teacher in the school. No matter the subject Flo is teaching, she finds ways to bring financial literacy into learning. If students are doing science projects on sending food pods to the moon, Flo makes sure they consider the pricing and budget for their materials. If book reports are in the lesson plan, Flo works with MCEE to find compelling stories (dubbed tradebooks) and lessons that reinforce financial concepts.

    Flo uses many of MCEE’s resources in her work. She supports educators as they offer the Stock Market Game to 140 Cromwell Valley students a year, and identifies MCEE-produced lessons they can incorporate in their plans, from topical books to informative case studies. Flo often brainstorms with MCEE staff about explaining economic concepts to different age groups, what to cover in emerging economic theories, and more.

    “Whenever I have an idea, I bounce it off MCEE. They are incredibly responsive and passionate about making it a reality. And in the process, they provide a community of teachers to talk with, share ideas, and explore lessons learned. It’s such an important resource. Sometimes, I simply go to their website, search by grade level, and find books and resources to consider.”

    Last year, one of Flo’s fourth grade teacher colleagues expressed interest in preparing students for the Stock Market Game, which is tailored to students in grades five and above. Flo came to MCEE for ideas on how to accommodate the younger class. “MCEE was so supportive in providing lesson connections,” she explained. “Anything that’s helping to further the financial education of our students; MCEE is there to help make it a reality.”

    Flo’s commitment to financial literacy stems from her experiences growing up without the guidance she now delivers to students. “Simply put, I feel that if I had had the financial education I needed, I wouldn’t have experienced the financial challenges I overcame,” she explained. “Our students and families need to be met wherever they are, and that’s what we're trying to do.” In doing so, Flo brings a unique perspective on how financial literacy can enhance a variety of subjects, from social studies and English to science and, of particular focus for her, math.

    “I use financial literacy as a tool to teach students math skills like place value, ratios, positive and negative integers, and percentages. There are so many in-roads to financial principles. It’s an organic way for students to learn math concepts without realizing they are learning math concepts!” Along the way, students learn budgeting, the stock market, risk calculation, and interest rates.

    Through this focus on economic education, students are also building foundational skills like collaboration, cooperation, critical thinking, forecasting, and problem solving. They’re paying attention to current events and bringing what they learn back to the classroom - asking Flo and one another if or how news of war or elections might impact economic markets. The classes learn together, explore together, and build 21st century skills they need to be successful.

    “I think teachers sometimes are hesitant to admit they don’t know something, especially with financial literacy,” said Flo. “They may say ‘I should know this’ but the truth is, you shouldn’t know everything. Embrace collective learning, never underestimate student interest, and pick up the phone to collaborate with MCEE around these powerful, impactful ideas!” 

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