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Fed program attempts to diversify economics field by going into classrooms

The three year long pilot program from the federal reserve trains 19 teachers on how to incorporate lessons on economics into their classrooms.
Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio
A three-year pilot program trains 19 teachers on how to incorporate lessons on economics into their classrooms.

A new program from the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis, Atlanta and Philadelphia aims to build more minority representation in the economics field by bringing lessons about it into local classrooms.

Nineteen teachers from five school districts across the country, including Jennings and Ferguson-Florissant, are participating in the three-year-long pilot program.

“We talked about the need to intervene before kids get to college, because by the time they get to college, they often see themselves on a particular career path and it might not be economics,” said Mary Suiter, assistant vice president and economic education officer at the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The program is intended to make economics engaging and relevant by training teachers to present the topics in lively ways, she explained.

“Less is more in terms of economic education for K-12 because we want them to be engaged in what they’re learning through hands-on activities in the classroom,” Suiter said. “These are lessons where kids are getting up and moving, trading cards and playing games.”

Mathew Parker, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Ferguson Middle School, appreciates how involved and memorable the lessons in the program are.

“It’s just good teaching,” he said. “We did an economics lesson in class about choices and how we make decisions, and it was about trying all sorts of different pretzels.”

In this lesson, Parker explained that his students had to develop criteria themselves for how they were going to decide which pretzel was the one the class wanted. This measured approach to decision making applies far beyond snack foods, he added.

“I joked with the kids you can do this for who you’re going to date, you can do this for whether you take the bus, or ride a car or walk to school,” Parker said. “It’s the same process.”

The Federal Reserve is most interested in students learning larger-level economic concepts, like decision making or opportunity cost, over the nitty-gritty of an economy, Suiter said.

This attracted A.J. Vambeketes, a social studies teacher at Jennings Middle School, to participate.

“A lot of people think economics is strictly based on money, finance, business-type stuff,” he said. “But it’s really just how people make decisions based on our limited supply of resources.”

Vambeketes added that it’s a chance to expose his students to concepts that they might not otherwise get.

“Even though economics is in the social studies standards for Missouri, they’re very rarely addressed in school,” he said. “Pretty much it’s geography, government and history and economics gets left behind.”

The curriculum also emphasizes the various ways someone can build a successful career as an economist and highlights people from underrepresented groups with significant accomplishments in the field, like Raphael Bostic, the first Black Federal Reserve Bank president, Suiter said.

This program is set to run for three years, but Suiter said she and her colleagues at the Philadelphia and Atlanta banks will begin analyzing its effectiveness much sooner.

“We hope to scale this if the pilot is successful and with that have kids in schools around the country come to recognize the value of an economic education,” she said.

Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.