Personal Finance: A Semester Later

The Personal Finance elective has been annualized with many students continuing to provide positive feedback about the class.

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By Sophia Mueller

Since the introduction of Stuyvesant’s Personal Finance senior elective, the widely popular class taught by mathematics teacher David Peng has been annualized due to high student demand for a year-long mathematics elective, which allowed for the addition of a wider range of financial topics to the curriculum. The class was originally created following a Spectator article written by senior Anisha Singhal in January 2021, titled “Calculus Before Checkbooks?” Soon after its publication, Peng met with Principal Seung Yu and Assistant Principal of Mathematics Eric Smith regarding the potential implementation of the course, which became official in the 2021-2022 school year.

As a result of the transition from a one-semester to an annual course, Peng now has more flexibility with the curriculum, allowing him to reinstate previously removed topics. “When I first taught [the class], I focused quite a bit on career readiness, interview skills, [and] building resume[s], [but] I took that out after the first semester,” Peng said. “Now that I have a year to teach this course [...], I can reintroduce [the] topics I’ve cut back.”

While many other courses implement a highly weighted final assessment, the Personal Finance elective gives hands-on projects throughout the year to reflect students’ own financial interests. At the end of the fall semester, students are required to submit a short video, in which they provide an answer to a particular financial question they brainstormed throughout the year.

Researching their own questions allows students to apply their newfound knowledge to their personal financial habits. “There were a lot of spending habits that I had before entering the class that I now no longer have because I see how important it is to save the money for [more valuable] things in the future,” senior Ruoting Jiang said.

Students have also used their knowledge to interpret real-life global occurrences. In a project on insurance, senior Rifah Elahi was able to connect her findings to a recent flood in Florida. “[Following a] flood that happened in Florida [...], many people [didn’t] have flood insurance so they lost what they had permanently,” Elahi said. “So it’s really important to read your insurance contract correctly.”

The class also provides students with vital life skills, which help them meet important financial milestones. “When I signed up for my first credit card when I turned 18, I met with a banker and she told me that she was impressed with what I knew about debit cards and applying for a credit card,” senior Eileen Lin said. “I didn’t really learn anything [from] my meetings [with the banker] because I had already learned it in Peng’s class.”

In terms of the overall learning experience, students have noted Peng’s efficient pacing of the class. “The pace has been really good. It’s definitely a lot slower so we can all absorb the material very nicely and [Peng’s] lessons are very helpful in the sense that we go over each concept with a lot of detail,” Singhal said.

Peng hopes that the class will ultimately allow students to build a stronger understanding of finance and apply their knowledge to make smart decisions in their personal lives. “They have that knowledge now, and they have the confidence that they’re going to enter the world without not knowing what they need to do in order to be financially independent,” Peng said.

Since the elective’s inception, Peng’s class has contributed to broader grass-roots movements pushing for more personal finance classes in schools. “There’s a lot of articles from Chalkbeat [and] City Limits that talk about this course and the need to have personal finance classes as a core curriculum across all of the schools. It’s pretty cool to kind of see that something we’ve kind of started out locally at home [...] is starting to get a little more attention,” Peng said. “I’m [personally] involved in that movement because I’m pushing to have this course advertised so that other schools can see what we are doing and kind of mimic what we do.”

In coordination with her initial campaign for the Stuyvesant class, Singhal has also been doing her part to promote the movement for more financial literacy classes. “The personal finance class has definitely lived up to my expectations,” Singhal said in a follow-up e-mail interview. “I’ve continued promoting the movement for personal finance by reaching out to newspapers to cover the class and promote a bill in the NY Senate that would make a financial literacy class a statewide mandate.”

As a result of the class’s skyrocketing popularity at Stuyvesant, it has overflowed the capacity of its two sections. “I do have students audit [...] and some students have sat in the entire semester auditing and have nothing to show for it on their transcript,” Peng said. “They’re there because they want to learn, and the demand is pretty high. Every semester I get e-mails from students asking to audit, and usually I don’t turn them down.”

Despite the high demand for the Personal Finance class, it currently cannot be expanded due to logistical issues. “The hard thing about expanding an elective is when you expand, it’s not in a vacuum. You have to consider what you’re cutting in order to expand it, and usually the cut is AP classes, which is something that, in this school, [no] one wants to do,” Peng said.

Regardless, Peng hopes that the elective will continue to grow in scope, but he wants students to help lead the change. “I want the students to be the voice that leads this change and not myself,” Peng said. “I want [the students’] voices to shine, [and for them] to be the loudest among everything because they’re the ones who are benefiting from this. At the end of the day, if the students really want this course, they have to be the ones that actively push for it.”