“Blended learning” — a combination of online learning and brick-and-mortar classrooms — is all the rage in education circles these days. This week Fairfax County schools announced a new effort to do more of it in high school personal finance courses.
Students can now log on to Web-based software to learn at their own pace about money basics: credit scores, debt management, mortgages, taxes and insurance.
Not thrilling stuff for a teenager, but important nonetheless. The program takes cues from video-gaming and social media, and the hope is that students will find it more engaging than the average lecture.
“Someone like me walking into a class and talking for eight hours to kids, their heads have hit the desks after seven minutes,” said Tom Davidson, chief executive of EverFi, a Georgetown-based educational technology company that built the software.
The financial crisis and ensuing recession highlighted the need for Americans of all ages to make better decisions regarding money. In Virginia, the meltdown helped spark a new state graduation requirement: a one-unit course in personal finance and economics, which all ninth-graders this year must complete to earn a diploma.
“I was a freshman when the economy started tanking,” said Nicole Rhoads, a 17-year-old senior at Chantilly High School. “It kind of freaked me out.”
Rhoads is applying to colleges now and wants to understand what she’s getting into when she signs promissory notes for student loans. She’s taking personal finance as an elective this year and gives the software program high marks. The avatars, from whom she’s learned about consumer fraud and mortgages, she said, “are more entertaining than our teachers.”
The software program is about six hours of instruction — so it’s a supplement, not a whole course.
Fairfax schools, beginning with Chantilly High, are getting the program for free, thanks to donations from Richmond-based insurance holding company Genworth Financial and Tysons Corner-based Cardinal Bank. Also slated to get the program with those donors’ support are high schools in Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties and Alexandria.
In addition, Genworth is helping foot the bill to get the program into more than 300 schools across the state, and other donors have helped EverFi — which embarked on the financial literacy project about three years ago — distribute the software and train teachers at more than 3,000 schools across the country.
“The whole financial crisis has kind of put this issue front and center,” Davidson said.