Tough Times Make Students Bullish About Finance Class

By Marietta Nelson

For The Kitsap Sun 

North Kitsap High School student Teagan Burns can’t figure out why the American economy is in such a mess.

“I’ve asked and asked and nobody can answer my questions,” she said.

Burns takes a class in personal finance taught at the school by Mary Anne Alexander. When the school year began, the 17-year-old Burns said she “literally knew nothing” about money.

In the months since, the precocious teen determined that a lack of knowledge “seems to be why our economy and our government are in so much trouble.”

Personal finance should be required for everyone before they leave high school, Burns said. 

Alexander helps kids determine the difference between needs and wants and teaches everything from balancing a checkbook to investing.

“So many people leave high school knowing so much about math and history, but nothing about money,” Burns said. “If they can make me learn to run in gym, they can certainly teach me and everyone else how to balance a checkbook.”

The current economic crisis worries Kitsap County teens, and they are talking about it in financial management classes at local high schools. By learning to budget, invest, buy insurance, use credit cards and more, teens hope to avoid the problems of so many adults around them.

“I want to be able financially to know what I am doing when I graduate,” said Adrianna Burgonoi, a junior at Central Kitsap High School.

State leaders recognize the importance of financial literacy, too. A task force studying financial education in public schools will report to Gov. Chris Gregoire in December with new ways to teach kids to handle money properly. 

Cathy Brorson serves on the task force and coordinates Kitsap Credit Union’s education program. Credit union employees visit Kitsap County schools dozens of times each year, reaching thousands of students with information about money management.

“We’re just trying to open students’ eyes to all aspects of managing their finances. It’s the best thing we can do for this generation and generations to come,” Brorson said. 

At Central Kitsap High School, Cynthia Blinkinsop’s Money Management class began the year watching “Affluenza,” a PBS documentary exploring America’s culture of overconsumption. 

Blinkinsop’s students have tracked expenses, including extrapolating the costs of things like electricity and house payments from their own families’ finances. Using that information, the students built personal budgets. They’ve also learned to establish credit and use credit cards wisely.

Seventeen-year-old Derrick Brillhart learned to balance his checkbook, which has been overdrawn. Brillhart works at Safeway and used to spend most of his paycheck on expensive food, like $2 energy drinks, during his breaks. Now he opts for vending machine fare that “costs like 50 cents,” he said.

Classmate Ally Holtzinger learned to read credit card offers carefully. The most recent offer she received from American Express offered her $500 just to sign up. She shredded it instead.

For a discussion about education issues, check out the Kitsap Education blog at

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