‘This is my passion’: Maryland educators win financial literacy awards

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with the correct photo of Susan Bistransin. A previous image showed Sue Rogan, who is the director of strategic partnerships at the CASH Campaign of Maryland.

Susan Bistransin, winner of Maryland Financial Education and Capability Awards. (Courtesy CASH Campaign of Maryland)

Susan Bistransin is a 38-year veteran of the Prince George’s County school system and currently serves as its financial education and empowerment coordinator. Now, she’s been honored with an award for his dedication to the topic.

Bistransin is one of Maryland’s winners of the Financial Education and Capability Award and said she’s thrilled by the honor.

“Money is our common denominator. We all need to know how to manage our money and make it work for us,” she said.

The award from two nonprofits, the CASH Campaign of Maryland and the Maryland Council on Economic Education, along with the Maryland State Department of Education, has been given to three educators: one Howard County elementary school teacher, a Montgomery County middle school teacher and Bistransin.

After more than three decades in education, with much of that directed at getting the Prince George’s County School system to add a course in financial literacy as a graduation requirement, Bistransin’s excitement about financial education is clear.

“This is my passion,” she said. “You get me talking about financial literacy, you’re going to have to stop me.”

And yes, she is the person that friends and family go to when they have financial questions.

Prince George’s County is one of eight school districts in Maryland that has made a course in financial literacy a graduation requirement. This is the first year that graduating seniors in the school system will collect a diploma under that requirement.

Bistransin said she’s had students come back to her and say they now do their parents’ taxes or tell her that they’ve opened a savings account for the first time.

“It’s really hard to learn about money,” said Sue Rogan, director of strategic partnerships at the CASH Campaign of Maryland.

Maryland’s State Department of Education has standards for financial literacy, but doesn’t require a course in the topic for graduation. Rogan said students may not have a family culture that discusses money, leaving students to learn on their own.

The need for understanding how money works is critical to all students, but, Rogan said, “when someone has fewer resources financially, that’s when every single dollar really counts.”

For families where there’s a sizable financial cushion, a money crunch can be a temporary setback, or simply inconvenient. But for some families, a traffic ticket or car that breaks down can spiral them into a major crisis.

The CASH Campaign focuses on providing financial education to adults to, in Rogan’s words, “help people build their financial health.”

There are financial coaching programs and free tax preparation for those making $64,000 or less. Rogan stresses that the CASH Campaign provides “unbiased” financial education — they don’t sell financial services. When schools provide some of that money management education to high school students, they’re giving those students a leg up before moving on to college, work or the military, Rogan said.

Bistransin said that there’s so much work to be done to get students ready for dealing with inflation, education, housing costs, long-term savings and investments.

“A one-semester financial literacy course is not going to give them all of the answers, or make them a financial advisor,” Bistransin said.

But it does open their eyes.

There’s already work to introduce more financial literacy content to middle schoolers, said Bistransin. And she said, there’s a new course, “Adulting 101,” that lets students explore handling money when they live on their own.

“That course has been picked up by five schools this year, and very well received,” she said.

The 2024 Financial Education and Capability Award winners are:

  • Elementary School: Amy Cargiulo, Waverly Elementary (Howard County)
  • Middle School: Nicolas Berluti, Kingsview Middle School (Montgomery County)
  • High School: Susan Bistransin, Prince George’s County Public High Schools

Other winners included Mary Ellen Mitchell, CEO and founder of Housing Frederick “Community Champion.” United Way of Frederick County won the award for Outstanding Organization.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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