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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!

  • 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!” 

  • June 15, 2022 11:20 AM | Anonymous

            Dr. Maddy Halbach      

    Application and Research Laboratory

    Howard County Public Schools

    Academy of Finance (AOF)

    Dr. Maddy Halbach fully understands the intrinsic value of personal financial education. “The reason I teach is to give kids the opportunity to know what they're doing so they can make good decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.”

    Dr. Halbach is the Academy of Finance instructor for the Howard County Public School System. For the past 15 years, she has taught economics, business, and finance courses to high school students at the Applications and Research Laboratory, the Career and Technical High School for Howard County that enrolls students from 12 county high schools.

    Her passion is in introducing students to financial literacy so they can use those skills to reduce the achievement and socio-economic gaps for students.And thanks to her passion and dedication, her students have thrived. Many of them have won state and national competitions in personal finance, and Stock Market Game regional awards and MCEE’s Investwrite challenge. In 2021 and 2022 a team of her students captured not only first place in the Maryland Personal Finance Challenge competition, but went on to represent Maryland in the National Personal Finance Challenge Program. In both 2021 and 2022 her Maryland champion teams fought their way to a second place national finish.

    Especially rewarding for Dr. Halback is “seeing students from disadvantaged areas who can turn their lives around by making good financial decisions in their late teens and early 20s. It's easy to get yourself into debt and hard to get out of it,” said Dr. Halback. “But if you understand finances, you won’t put yourself into debt. If all high school students fully understand financial literacy, they can make informed decisions about what they want to do and where they want to be. They can decide on going to college full time or part time - or at all - and in-state or out-of-state with a higher tuition. They can take out loans with the knowledge that they have to be paid back and know to explore and apply for  scholarships.” 

    “It’s a way to come out of poverty,” notes Dr. Halbach. “Education and financial literacy can help  break the vicious cycle of generational poverty.”

    Dr. Halbach’s personal story attests to this. “I was an immigrant coming from an area where education was not a priority. I dropped out of high school when I was 15 years old. What followed were some bad financial decisions, a few questionable life choices and some eye-opening experiences. Eventually, while raising three wonderful children, I returned to school to acquire my GED, Bachelor’s, Masters and eventually my Ph.D. I want to help kids avoid the same pitfalls.”

    Dr. Hablach’s commitment to her students has been recognized. She was honored as the Maryland Financial Literacy Teacher of the Year in 2016 and the 2017 Howard County Teacher of the Year. She has trained teachers around the country on implementing financial education courses and has been a guest speaker for financial literacy scholarship awards, economic council events, and at national and state conferences. Dr. Halbach also co-wrote an online financial literacy course for the State of Maryland.

    Not surprisingly, Dr. Habach is an advocate for a statewide financial education requirement in order to graduate high school. “Too oten, school is the only place where children will learn how to make these decisions. And unless it’s mandated, it doesn’t get taught.”

    “I am proud to say that 100% of my students have graduated high school, 99% have passed the NAF certification, and 95% are college bound, says Dr. Halbach. “My heart is full of pride for what my students have accomplished.”


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