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Prepping for What's Next

Prepping for What's Next

Applied mathematics takes on new meaning at St. John’s

Kara Brown

It’s a common rhetorical lament from high school math students: “When are we ever going to need this mathematical principle in life?”

Four years ago, math teacher Kara Brown helped create a new, year-long elective that addresses “every sort of practical math circumstance students will face in college and beyond.” Today, Financial Algebra is among the most sought-after and lively classes on campus. 

The course’s primary units immerse students in the calculus of student loans, paychecks, home-ownership borrowing, inflation and devaluation, federal income taxes, retirement planning, and budgeting for independent living. 

“There’s just so much to talk about and they get super-interested and have tons of questions, so we really get to dive into the details,” says Brown, noting that the class is currently offered to accelerated and honors level seniors. “Just understanding credit cards and student loans and how loans and interest work sort of blows their mind. Grasping the realities of take-home pay, health insurance, and pre-tax savings is truly eye-opening.”

Indeed, calculating gross pay and projecting out cost of living raises plus inflation has a way of doing that. Students are particularly moved by the savings intrinsic to shorter-term borrowing vs. an extended term.

Brown also showcases guest speakers throughout the year, including presentations from a financial analyst, an HR specialist, and by the Massachusetts Office of Economic Empowerment. Students work in Google Sheets during the course and learn how to manipulate formulas and code within the software platform. “When they master that, whether you’re headed to college or you ultimately go into finance, you’ve already got another tool in your belt.”