Reality Check: OK Extension Helps Teachers Meet Financial Education Requirements

By St Pierre, Eileen; Simpson, Mickey et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Reality Check: OK Extension Helps Teachers Meet Financial Education Requirements

St Pierre, Eileen, Simpson, Mickey, Moffat, Susan, Cothren, Phillis, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

According to the Jump$tart Coalition, Oklahoma is one of 24 states to adopt financial education requirements for students (Jump$tart Coalition, 2010). The Passport to Financial Literacy Act of 2007, Oklahoma House Bill 1476, requires Oklahoma students in grades 7 through 12 to fulfill established financial literacy requirements to graduate with a standard diploma (Oklahoma H.B. 1476, 2007). Fourteen areas of financial literacy instruction are specified (see Table 1). The Oklahoma State Department of Education (2009) provided detail on the standards to meet these requirements. Cooperative Extension educators use the "Reality Check" program to help schools address eight of these instruction areas (Cothren, Simpson, & Moffat, 2009).

What is Reality Check?

Reality Check is an interactive, hands-on financial educational program. The goals of the program are:

1. To give students a glimpse of their future in fun and exciting ways;

2. To help all students become aware of basic skills in financial planning, goal setting, decision making, and career planning; and

3. To clarify the need for young women and men to examine their attitudes about their futures and their career expectations.

County high schools are recruited to participate in the program, so the program is typically held at a centrally located facility such as a vocational technology center or large high school auditorium. The program is run over 1 or 2 days, depending on the number of participating schools. If a large number of students are participating, students go through the program in shifts. Students are usually given from 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete the program.

At Reality Check, students receive a worksheet indicating an occupation and a lifestyle status that a 25 -year old may experience. Examples of occupations include mechanic, banker, teacher, and flight attendant. Students may have a (non-) working spouse, be a single mother or father with X number of children, or be single, living with or without roommates. Monthly salary and payroll deductions are indicated on the worksheet, as is health status.

Students first visit the bank booth to create a bank account and receive money based upon the salary of their assigned occupations. They also decide if they want to open a savings account. Students visit approximately 20 other booths to complete a monthly budget. Students are encouraged to visit the transportation, housing, and insurance booths first because these expenses take up the majority of their income. The majority of students live in rural areas and thus are required to have a car. Public transportation is not an option at this time in the program. Students then visit the remaining booths: utilities, car tag and excise tax, childcare, clothing, communications, entertainment, eye care, furniture, grocery, health/grooming, and medical/dental. Students must designate some income for charitable donations. At the chance booth, each student must draw a chance card that represents an unexpected event, such as an unplanned expense for a child or a bonus at work. Unexpected income must be put into a savings account. Due to time limitations, life-altering events such as divorce, an unplanned pregnancy, or a job layoff are not considered for the chance cards.

A student having a hard time balancing the budget first returns to the bank booth to consider withdrawing money from savings. If the student did not set up a savings account or is still experiencing financial struggle after withdrawing savings, the student must visit the SOS booth. Here a financial advisor helps re-evaluate the student's choices. Advice may include trading in a car for a cheaper one, downsizing to a smaller house, or helping the student find a second job.

The safety booth has police volunteers who move throughout the event area checking on students. Tickets are issued and a fine is paid if students are without auto insurance, are running (a speeding ticket), or not participating (a ticket for loitering).

After visiting all booths, students proceed to the checkout where their final budget is calculated. Students with a positive balance receive a Payday candy bar; those with a negative balance receive a Zero candy bar. Drawings are held at the end of the event for savings bonds and accounts donated by area banks.

Evaluation forms, as well as pre- and postsurveys, provide feedback. On the forms administered at the program site, students are asked their opinion of the program and what they learned from it. Educators began administering pre- and post-surveys to a sample of student participants at the most recent Reality Check program; these surveys can be administered in paper form or online. Given the large number of students who attend a Reality Check program, it would be difficult to administer these to all students. For the most recent Reality Check event, 83 students completed the online pre-survey with 66 of these students completing the online post-survey. The same two sets of questions are asked on the pre- and post-surveys (see Table 2). Generally speaking, students had a change of attitude after experiencing Reality Check. More students ranked using a budget, saving money, learning a trade/skill, and having health insurance as very important after participating in the program. More students felt supporting a family, spending money on what you need versus what you want, and having money left over after paying all the bills were hard. Interestingly, more students ranked living on your own as easy in the post-survey than in the pre-survey, perhaps reflecting increased confidence from participating in the program.

Role of Community Partners

The first Reality Check program, in April 2009, was organized by Extension educators in three counties in Southwest Oklahoma. Eleven high schools participated. The event took place at the Mid-America Career Technology Center (MCTC). In all, 60 volunteers were needed to staff the different booths. Extension educators sent letters to local business people asking them to volunteer their time. No money was solicited from the business people. In addition to student and staff volunteers from MCTC, there were community volunteers from insurance companies, banks, electric cooperatives, local businesses (car dealership, travel agent, department stores), county health departments and other government agencies, nonprofit organizations, a hospital, and an eye clinic.

Each booth had a minimum of two volunteers. Some booths, for example bank and housing, required additional volunteers. Each booth had a chairperson. Prior to the event, chairs and other booth volunteers were given a list of their responsibilities and assigned to booths, based on their areas of expertise. A general orientation session was held before the start of the event.

At the end of the event, volunteers were asked to complete a survey requesting their opinions of the Reality Check program. It was overwhelmingly positive. They also provided interesting suggestions on how to improve the program:

* Add harsh realities such as job loss, drug addiction, mental illness, and teen pregnancy

* Include saving for retirement

* Incorporate paying off student loans and credit cards

* Have a gas station booth where the price of gas changes every 10 minutes; make students fill up at least once

* Coping with food insecurity such as applying for TANF, using food stamps, and visiting the food pantry

When asked what they liked most about the program, one word was consistently cited by the community volunteers - interaction. One volunteer enjoyed "seeing the light bulb' moments when students realize how hard life and choices can be."

To date, the program has been administered by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES) four times involving five different counties. Over 1,400 students from at least 24 high schools have participated in the program. Several other countywide events are being planned. Beginning in 2012, this program will become a permanent curriculum for the OCES Financial Readiness Issue Team.

Family and consumer sciences (FCS) county educators organize each local event, from contacting schools and teachers, soliciting volunteers, overseeing the operation of the program to managing the evaluation process. Educators from neighboring counties frequently collaborate and conduct a joint program. The role of the state specialist is to publicize this curriculum at national and state-wide conferences and in scholarly journals, conduct program evaluation, and obtain grant funding to support the program.

Helping Teachers Meet Financial Education Requirements

The Oklahoma law became effective on July 1, 2007. Implementation began in the 2008-2009 school year for students in grade 7 and will be phased in gradually. With the start of the 20132014 school year, educators must teach the 14 instruction areas to all students in grades 7 through 12 (see Table 1). The Oklahoma State Department of Education posts student materials and teacher resources on a secure website to assist educators in implementing these standards. Currently, the state does not collect data on what schools are incorporating personal financial education into their curriculum. However, once the standards are fully implemented, each student will have a Personal Financial Literacy Passport, a cumulative record of completion of the 14 areas of instruction. This will be a uniform document used by all school districts and will accompany the student if transferring to a new district. Once completed, Personal Financial Literacy credit will be documented on the student's high school transcript.

Teachers providing instruction in personal financial literacy are only required to hold a valid Oklahoma teaching certificate in any subject area. Teachers are encouraged by the state to attend professional development in teaching the new standards, but it is not mandated. Although professional development sponsored by the Oklahoma State Department of Education is provided at no cost to school districts and teachers, there is no formal certification program.

Therefore, teachers who bring students to participate in the Reality Check program are not able to receive formal recognition from the state for participating in the program at this time. However, if teachers incorporate Reality Check into a personal finance course or online module, they can note this on a student's cumulative record.

Oklahoma teachers whose students had participated in three prior Reality Check programs were emailed a link to an Internet survey containing questions pertaining to the Passport to Financial Literacy (PFL). Teachers from three counties, with teaching experience ranging from 2 to 3 1 years, responded to the survey. The response rate was approximately 39% (9 teachers). Some were FCS teachers but this is not a requirement to participate in Reality Check. Seven of the responding teachers were aware of the PFL personal financial education requirements before attending the program. Six teachers were incorporating personal finance into their curriculum before attending the program. All said Reality Check event organizers explained how Reality Check could be used to teach some of the 14 instruction areas and all stated it is an effective way to meet the PFL requirements. When asked how Reality Check could be improved, the most common answers were offering the program more often (7 respondents) and broadening the program to include more students in grades 7 through 12 (6 respondents).

Teachers also were asked if they would be interested in receiving additional training to better prepare them for teaching the instruction areas in the PFL. The majority said yes (6 teachers), 1 said no, and 2 were unsure. When asked whether their administration would be supportive of this training, 6 said yes and 3 were unsure.

Advocating for Financial Literacy Teaching Standards

Financial literacy is one of the AAFCS public policy priorities. According to the Impact Statement posted on the AAFCS website,

Well-informed, well-educated consumers have the potential to make better decisions for their families, increasing their economic security and overall well-being. Secure households and families are better able to contribute to vital, thriving communities and foster community economic development. An effective and efficient marketplace requires knowledgeable consumers who make informed choices. Therefore, financial literacy is important for the individual, family, and community.

As states begin implementation of financial education requirements, it is important for teachers and their advocates to play an active role in determining how teachers are trained to deliver financial education and how they are recognized for development of these specialized teaching skills. The profession cannot assume that those already delivering financial education are sufficiently prepared or keeping their skills up-to-date.


Oklahoma is one of 24 states to adopt financial education requirements for students.


At Reality Check, students receive a worksheet indicating an occupation and a lifestyle status that a 25-year old may experience.


As states begin implementation of financial education requirements, it is important for teachers and their advocates to play an active role in determining how teachers are trained to deliver financial education.


Editor's Note: AAFCS has announced the Certified Personal and Family Finance Educator (CPFFE) concentration credential. For more information, visit Credentialing/PFFE_Announcement_4-l l.pdf and the candidate information bulletin at http://www Bulletin_4-ll.pdf.



American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences. (2010). Financial literacy resolution submitted to the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences. Retrieved from http ://www. aaf cs .org/Advo cacy/financial_literacy.asp

Cothren, P., Simpson, M., & Moffat, S. (2009). Reality check educational curriculum. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

Jump$tart Coalition. (2010). State financial education requirements. Retrieved from -requirements.html

Oklahoma H. B. 1476. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.sde.

Oklahoma State Department of Education. 2009. F er sonai financial literacy pocket pass and implementation guide. Retrieved from http ://www. s de. state .ok .us/Curriculum/ PFLP/pdf/PASS.pdf

[Author Affiliation]

Eileen St. Pierre, PhD ( is Personal Finance Specialist and Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK; Mickey Simpson is Extension Educator at McClain County, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Purcell, OK: Susan Moffat is Extension Educator at Cleveland County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Norman, OK; Phillis Cothren, CFCS, is Retired Extension Educator at Garvin County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Pauls Valley, OK.

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Reality Check: OK Extension Helps Teachers Meet Financial Education Requirements


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