Perspectives from Educators: Using Katrina's Classroom to Teach Personal Finance

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Catherine Millsaps teaches at Moore County High School in rural Lynchburg, Tennessee, where the entire county has a little over 6,300 residents. She never expected that someone who lived through Hurricane Katrina would show up in her personal finance classroom. Yet in the fall of 2015—10 years after the hurricane struck—she had just that happen.

Millsaps said, "I am using Katrina's Classroom in personal finance, and one of my students is a survivor. Her family lived in New Orleans and their home was destroyed, so they stayed in a rental they owned until they got a FEMA trailer. She was only five at the time but remembers some of the experience. They moved to Lynchburg to resettle because they did not want to go through another hurricane. Just had never had that situation before and wanted to share."

Even though Millsaps doesn't live in a coastal location prone to hurricanes, she has found that the personal finance lessons and videos resonate with her students, and she has used Katrina's Classroom for a number of years. She continued, "I thoroughly love using this lesson and thank you so much for providing it."

About the curriculum

Katrina's Classroom: Teaching Money Skills for Life is a four-part personal finance curriculum unit designed for high school classrooms. It uses hands-on learning strategies and technology integration to teach students about key personal finance concepts and how to apply what they've learned to explore options, make decisions, and complete projects using real-world tools. Related infographics and supplemental hands-on activities round out the unit.

Each lesson segment in Katrina's Classroom is presented in multiple formats so you can select what works best for your classroom. The curriculum unit focuses on goals, decision making, financial institutions, credit, education, careers, and budgeting. All of the lessons include an underlying theme of emergency and financial preparedness built on the personal stories highlighted in the original Katrina's Classroom: Financial Lessons from a Hurricane videos.

"I use the Katrina curriculum each year because the students can relate to the young people in the videos," said Grover Starnes, a business and personal finance teacher at Sullivan East High School in Bluff City, Tennessee. "The students at East are going through a lot of the same high school events without the added difficulty of being relocated because of Hurricane Katrina. Most of all, it makes the students think, what would I do in the same situation and am I prepared?"

Additionally, the Katrina's Classroom activities incorporate opportunities for students individually to write, research, report, graph, calculate, evaluate, support a position, make decisions, and reflect as well as to work collaboratively in groups.

Candi Norwood is a former high school personal finance teacher and is now the director of student success with the Tennessee Department of Education's Division of College, Career and Technical Education. She said, "As a personal finance teacher, I used Katrina's Classroom. Students were immediately engaged because it comes straight from the headlines. The materials contain literacy integration that is a focus area in most school systems. Some financial materials only cover budgeting. The Katrina's Classroom curriculum adds another element—the unexpected."

Katrina's Classroom in the virtual classroom

Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Virtual School has redesigned its online personal finance course and used many Atlanta Fed resources, including Katrina's Classroom, as part of the curriculum. Van Hawk, the assistant virtualization engineer and personal finance teacher at MNPS Virtual School, learned about the Federal Reserve resources when he attended professional development training at the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch. He said, "I enjoy attending the Fed trainings and being with other professionals in an open environment that encourages a high level of learning." Hawk was able to transfer that training into a meaningful learning experience for his students enrolled in the virtual personal finance course.

Adrienne Sachse, an economics professor at Florida State College in Jacksonville, Florida, teaches a financial literacy class that is designed primarily for high school students. She has embedded the Katrina's Classroom videos into her course and posted related questions on the discussion board for student response. The course has changed at least one student's perspectives about adult life, according to Sachse. The student said she never really thought about saving as much as she does now. The student also noted that learning about the families during Hurricane Katrina has really encouraged her to pay attention to her money and bank account.

Additional tools and resources

The Katrina's Classroom: Teaching Money Skills for Life curriculum can be accessed online or you may order a curriculum flash drive. You may also request sets of infographics posters.

Here's an overview of the concepts covered in each lesson and related links.

  • Lesson 1: Katrina Strikes
    Concepts: Financial preparedness, risk management, goal setting and planning, decision making, scarcity, opportunity cost
  • Lesson 2: In the Aftermath
    Concepts: Financial institutions, financial products/services, Federal Reserve, liquidity, rate of return, account and records management
  • Lesson 3: A Fresh Start
    Concepts: Credit and debt, types of credit, loans, credit card offers and statements, interest/interest rates, credit rights and responsibilities, credit report and score
  • Lesson 4: Back to School
    Concepts: Postsecondary education and careers, human capital, employment/unemployment, FAFSA, budget and living expenses, savings tools, Rule of 72

Be sure to check out the other education resources available from the Atlanta Fed and the Federal Reserve System.