His older sister gave 15-year-old Hector A. Ortegon II wise advice.

“She told me she wished she had a class like this in high school because once she got out, she didn’t know what to do,” he said Monday while learning about stock market investing at Atlas Preparatory School.

It’s hard to figure out how to budget, spend sensibly, save prudently and invest advantageously, Hector said, so he decided to take an elective Financial Literacy class, offered for the first time this academic year.

Atlas Prep sophomore Brian Hagana admits he doesn’t know anything about money — other than that he’d like to earn enough to live comfortably.

“I believe learning about it now will help me later on,” he said.

Some students at Atlas Prep, a charter school in Harrison School District 2, work a part-time job to help their families or pay their cell phone bills, so the lessons are instantly practical, said Laura Byrnes, who teaches Foundations in Personal Finance, a Ramsey Education online course, to ninth- through 12th- graders.

“Immediately upon stepping out of these doors, many of our students have some financial burden or responsibility,” Byrnes said. “They need to know the difference between a debit and a debt, between checking and savings accounts, how to use credit cards in a smart way and to pay off debt before interest rates accrue.”

The No. 1 change students made after taking the class last fall was to save an “emergency fund” of at least $500, she said.

The program’s 12 chapters include video lessons and classroom activities. “It’s a way to bring math to life,” Byrnes said.

Under new Colorado graduation guidelines that took effect with ninth-graders in 2017, financial literacy basics now are a required component of economics classes. Many schools also are adding advanced elective classes.

Every K-12 student should learn about personal finances so they understand the importance of saving and principles of spending, said John Brock, a professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

It’s even more critical with the shift from defined benefit pension plans to employees being responsible for personal financial planning, he said.

“Since personal finance education has not traditionally been part of the K-12 curriculum, many parents are simply ill-equipped to provide this education to their children,” Brock said in an email. “It’s thus crucial that personal finance education become part of the K-12 curriculum and that teachers receive sufficient professional development in preparation for teaching this relatively new discipline.”

With many Americans burdened by unwieldy debts, it’s obvious people don’t know how to manage their finances, said Palmer High School teacher Andrea Stemper.

She uses the Next Generation Personal Finance online curriculum being offered for the first time this school year at Palmer, in Colorado Springs School District 11.

“It’s a really good thing for people to get a handle on when they’re young,” Stemper said. “If you can defer consumption now and invest that money, it will pay enormous dividends in the future.”

Another valuable lesson is that people can make more money, spend less or both to improve their finances.

“A lot of curriculum tells you to save and don’t spend, but it’s very hard to do that if you’re making minimum wage,” Stemper said. “It’s important for students to know they can make more by increasing their skills.”

The elective class delves deeper than the required basics and “empowers students to make their own decisions and understand the big picture,” she said.

Stemper said she hopes advanced teachings become mandatory statewide. “All students should have access to this because it can make an incredible difference in the trajectory of their lives.”

The Ramsey Education program has been required of all seniors at James Irwin Charter Schools’ Power Technical campus since the pre-engineering and professional trade school opened in 2016.

The classes fit with the school’s focus on character development, said Principal Rob Daugherty.

“Beyond work ethic and being a good person, we believe that financial responsibility is a matter of good character. We believe it’s as important as learning to drive a car or read.”

The decision to make the classes a condition of graduation came out of the 2008 recession, Daughtery said. “We realized that young people did not have the financial skills necessary to function as adults, and it wasn’t being taught at school and rarely at home.”

Students get a start in eighth grade, learning home budgeting in character class.

“‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.’ It is the same with finances.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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