By Marie Nitke

Grand Rapids Herald-Review

Thanks to efforts by a new Financial Literacy Committee, starting next year Grand Rapids High School students can learn to manage their personal finances in a new elective course called “Money Matters.” The class will encompass everything from simple lessons on how to balance a checkbook to more advanced topics like mortgage loan interest rates.

In an interview with GRHS Principal Jim Smokrovich and local financial planner Guy Clairmont on Tuesday, Clairmont explained that the Financial Literacy Committee started in May with a relatively small group of area business owners, financial planners and others who were interested in educating the community about practical money management.

“We wanted to focus our efforts on some results we could see,” he said. “We did some research and saw that there already were some adult classes in the community, so we decided to start at the high school, and asked Jim [Smokrovich] and others to come to a meeting.”

There was immediate interest, said Smokrovich, as already some students and parents had requested that the school offer this type of instruction.

With school officials receptive to the idea, committee members honed down a plan of action, and identified three main objectives: 1) Gain community support for their efforts; 2) Offer “Money Matters” at the high school and eventually make it a graduation requirement (it is not a requirement for graduation at this time), and; 3) Generate excitement in youth about good financial decision-making and financial success.

“We want to teach things like, ‘What’s an ARM?’ or ‘What happens if I miss a payment on my credit card?’” Clairmont said. “We believe it’s important for students to have exposure to this stuff, and to not be afraid of it. Because, really, in today’s world, money does matter.”

Today, the Financial Literacy Committee has grown to include GRHS teachers, students and community members. “Money Matters” is being considered a revamped version of the high school’s existing “Personal Financial Management” class, and will include a new curriculum that is being developed with help from the committee. The class will also feature regular guest speakers from the area who are experts on finance.

The course is not only good for students, but has the potential to be good for the local business community, Clairmont said, as “people who are more fiscally responsible help create a better, thriving economic community,” and also help “develop a better employee pool.”

With the help of a $5,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation, students who take “Money Matters” will have chances to win monthly prizes, or even a $1,000 scholarship. Students may sign up for the course during registration this February.