Are Maine high school students learning the basics of managing money and developing a realistic spending and savings plan by the time they graduate?

Years after the great recession of 2008, many schools aren’t giving financial education the emphasis it deserves. Google “personal finance,” and you will find the following:

— Students do not understand financial dynamics

— People start accumulating debt earlier in life

— There are many new ways to get into debt

— People are filing for bankruptcy younger and beginning to save money later

— Student loan costs are skyrocketing

As a high school business teacher at United Technologies Center in Bangor, I’m on the front lines of a battle for my students’ attention and commitment to learning. My students are great young adults. But like many high school juniors and seniors, they are bombarded by more and more distractions and temptations, especially around money. In an atmosphere of evolving cultural norms and diverse learning styles, it’s a challenge for educators, parents and the greater community to help teenagers grasp the fundamentals of personal finance and, more importantly, help them apply the fundamentals to their own lives when they enter the “real world.”

In my classroom, I’ve found a personalized, experiential approach to learning is especially well-suited to teaching personal finance. However, the first challenge — harder than it sounds — is to figure out where students “are,” presently. I keep three things in mind as I build financial education lessons:

— Make sure to take the time to really see each student for who she or he truly is

— Start with the end objective in mind and “reverse engineer” the lesson based on the student’s current perspective and interests

— Fully utilize technology and cultural references as appropriate

To help personalize financial education lessons for my students, I’ve used many ideas and resources I learned about through the Maine Jump$tart Coalition. Maine Jump$tart is made up of organizations and community leaders dedicated to advancing financial literacy in grades K-12.

One extra-curricular program I heard about at Maine Jump$tart’s annual Financial Literacy conference for educators — the LifeSmarts competition — has truly jump-started my students’ personal finance knowledge. Earlier this month, UTC’s team members showed their knowledge of personal finance and other life skills topics by winning the state championship. Their hard work will be rewarded by an all-expense trip to Denver to represent Maine in the national LifeSmarts finals.

LifeSmarts is just one of the tools I use to help students become financially capable young adults, but there are many other excellent resources available. I urge everyone to consider how we can help students become better prepared to manage their finances responsibly, in and outside the classroom. In my mind, this is an educational priority, which, if more fully committed to, will significantly help solve some of the many critical social and economic issues facing our nation and state.

Amanda Peterson is a business management instructor at United Technologies Center in Bangor.