Spending the last 17 years of his career teaching personal finance has been a priority for Lothar Konietzko. “I really enjoy what I do as a public educator,” says Lothar, reflecting on giving students the tools to unlocking a strong financial future.
Lothar is the Social Studies chair at Everett High School in Lansing, Michigan and teaches Economics, among other subjects, to high school juniors. When he arrived at Everett High School, Economics was a course no one wanted to teach. Lothar has since turned the class into an engaging experience for everyone involved.
“I feel blessed to be in a profession where I can make a difference and I like teaching in an urban school district because I think those students deserve great teachers,” Lothar explains. “I found it to be a very rewarding subject to teach because students could make the connection to real life. I think that’s the beauty of economics, that the kids can find value in what you teach them.”
Lothar’s students presented startup ideas at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) Youth Startup Challenge.
One of Lothar’s most popular classroom activities centers around sneaker culture. Students watch Just for Kicks, a documentary about the history and popularity of sneakers in the U.S., then separate into groups to design and pitch a shoe to a team of “venture capitalists” from the local business community. The project is popular among students and administrators alike, and engages the students in a more in-depth understanding of the curriculum and critical life skills.
The activity helps students learn how to work together as a team. “They have to do some decision-making about where they’re going to manufacture the shoe and understand the involved costs,” said Lothar. “I think those are really valuable experiences and my kids and colleagues love it.”
Within his Economics curriculum, Lothar works to ensure that his students walk away with relevant personal finance skills. His activities often provide lessons that not only speak to understanding of economic topics, but help them to make practical financial decisions in their own lives.
Lothar created his own stock market simulation for his classroom, where students track five stocks of the DOW using a total of $5000. Students are taught through example that investing is a long-term activity for retirement and are not permitted to sell their five companies during the semester.
“The goal is for them to learn that investing is a longer process than something you do for instant gratification to make money,” says Lothar.
At the end of the semester, he typically recognizes both the students whose portfolios show the most and the least gain to help make his students more comfortable with the concept of risk and educated risk management as it applies to the investment process.
Students pitched their computer repair startup at LEAP’s 2017 Lansing Youth Startup Expo.
To get to know his students, Lothar uses a personal writing assignment dealing with opportunity costs. He asks the students to describe a difficult choice they made in their life and what they had to give up as a result. A few years ago, he wrote an article for Education Week detailing how this assignment allows him to better understand student culture, and it continues to be an important component of his curriculum.
Some of the other activities he includes in the classroom involve partnerships with community organizations. Through these partnerships, he has provided students with the opportunity to explore programs like reverse job-shadowing, in which local community members come into the classroom to discuss their careers.
In addition to his tried and true classroom activities, Lothar constantly searches for new opportunities to make his course relevant and meaningful for teens. Just this year, he had his students participate in the Youth Start Up Challenge sponsored by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) and had his students compete with two other counties to develop a product demonstration, business plan and pitch.
“They are trying to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs and business people in our region,” explains Lothar. “It gave them a better idea of how to conceptualize what it takes to start a business and what they might need if they chose to pursue it.”
Though it was only his first year having students participate in this program, Lothar’s students walked away with a combined $800 in prizes and he had the second highest participation of any other school at the competition.
Students were interviewed by a contest judge at the LEAP Expo about their non-profit organization for young people centered around dance.
Lothar feels comfortable bringing new activities into the classroom because they can often lead to better engagement from his students. He relies heavily on student feedback to continue to improve his curriculum and partnership with his students in the learning process.
“I’m grading them the entire semester or year, so I feel it’s fair to have them turn around and grade me,” Lothar says. “The feedback is invaluable if you have a good relationship with your students.”
Students frequently come back to Lothar after graduation to tell him they’ve opened savings accounts or work-sponsored retirement counts and have been using his teaching in their own financial lives. One student had a story that had a particular impact on Lothar.
“A student a few years back shared with me that her father died and the money she inherited from him, she invested in DOW stocks,” says Lothar. “She felt that she was honoring her father’s legacy by not wasting the money on needless things, but was rather making her life more secure in the future.”
For Lothar, it is this type of story that makes teaching feel rewarding. Knowing that he is having a direct impact on students’ lives and changing personal finance habits is why teaching is his passion.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Lothar Konietzko on his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Everett High School.
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