West High students learn financial skills

Westminster program teaches how to make and manage money

Published: Sunday, Feb. 1 2009 9:48 a.m. MST

West High students Felix Palacios, left, and Jose Torres study the stock market.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

In addition to goal-setting and marriage, students enrolled in West High School's adult roles and financial literacy course also figure out how to file taxes, budget money and balance a checking account, among other grown-up behaviors.

Friday, about a dozen students who are enrolled in the course elected to attend Westminster College's Center for Financial Analysis, where they researched actual publicly traded companies to better understand buying, selling and trading stocks for the purpose of making money.

"They like money, and they want to learn how to make it," said West High teacher Nicole Petersen. In a yearlong course, she teaches students things they'll likely need to know when they graduate from school to real life. At the beginning of the course, she said, many of the students have no idea what some of the terms used in banking and investing mean. However, they leave better educated and excited to make it on their own.

"They need the experience to do it on their own," Petersen said. "Sometimes all it takes is a little confidence."

Using up-to-the-minute stock quotes, students who attended the Westminster program were able to examine and compare companies they frequent, including Hot Topic, Wal-mart and McDonald's. They learned that following the stock market isn't nearly as intimidating as it looks, but it also can be tricky at times.

"There are some great companies out there, but their prices have gone down because the entire market has gone down," Tammie Howarth, coordinator of the Westminster center, told the class. She compared low prices at after-Christmas sales to the condition of the current market. "Right now there are still really great deals out there."

West High junior Joshua Lovato got his first hands-on Internet-based Yahoo Finance training Friday and said he likes learning how to do "adult things."

"It's like giving us a plan and teaching us how to manage our life," he said, adding that once he understands it all more, he might be willing to give it a try solo. He's hoping the more he learns, the better luck he'll have when he gets the chance to really invest.

"When you're young, you often make decisions that affect the rest of your life," Howarth said. "To make good financial decisions, young people need to be educated so they can take control of their financial future."

Howarth will lead 13 different three-hour discussions with high school students through the first week of April, as part of a high school outreach program sponsored by Chase Bank. She believes the students leave armed with information they can use at some point in their lives.

"It's very interesting to me because no one in my family has ever taken a class like this," said Leslie Carlson, a West High junior. She said she likes being able to talk with her dad about taxes, returns and other money matters.

"I really didn't know much about any of this until now," she said. "It makes me feel more confident and responsible to run my life."

All Utah high school students are now required to participate in a yearlong financial literacy course to graduate. The experience at Westminster is optional for many classes but offers them an opportunity to delve into the basics of credit scores, financial markets and stock investing. In all, more than 400 students will participate in the program, including discussion, hands-on application, investment games and financial quizzes.

E-MAIL: wleonard@desnews.com