Econ Illinois celebrates 60 years of teaching ‘dollars and sense’ to state’s K-12 students

Joanne Dempsey
Joanne Dempsey

The Great Recession of 2008 lingers on, with daily reminders that our economy is a fragile entity which we ignore at our own peril.

Yet the study of economics and the basic principles of financial literacy remain on the periphery of public education at all levels.

For 60 years, NIU-housed organization Econ Illinois has worked to change that scenario, providing relevant and engaging economics education materials to K-12 schools across the state.

Joanne Dempsey, Econ Illinois’ outgoing executive director, says the agency’s work is more important now than ever.

“Our programs provide young people with opportunities to learn critical decision-making skills that will benefit them all their lives,” Dempsey says. “Nothing could be more important than understanding that every choice you make has a cost, and not just in dollars and cents. Weighing the costs of your options helps you make better choices.”

Econ Illinois is housed in the Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Information Technologies at NIU. Founded in 1951, Econ Illinois has provided professional development for more than 66,000 K-12 teachers who in turn have helped more than 4 million students gain the skills and knowledge they need to participate fully and effectively in an increasingly complex economy.

In cooperation with university-based Centers for Economic Education and the Illinois State Board of Education, Econ Illinois’ programs are designed to help students gain understanding of the economic system in which they will live as members of the workforce, consumers of goods and services, savers and investors, voting citizens and participants in a global society.

“While the content of what we teach in economics has not changed, the means by which we deliver programs has changed dramatically, especially in recent years,” Dempsey says. “Engaged learning activities have always been part of our programs, but they now include online delivery and video games that teach young people the same knowledge and skills.”

To ensure that all K-12 students leave school with a solid understanding of economics and entrepreneurship, Econ Illinois provides professional development training for educators and innovative instructional programs for students.

Some of the key programs offered by Econ Illinois:

Celebrate 60! 1951-2011 logo

  • The Economics Poster Contest, which challenges K-8 students to demonstrate their understanding of economic principles by depicting them as artwork. On average, 2,500 students per year participate in the program, gaining a better understanding of such basic economic concepts as ”opportunity costs,” “scarcity,” “goods and services” and “producers and consumers.”
  • The Stock Market Game™, which has engaged more than 550,000 Illinois students since it was introduced in 1988. The Stock Market Game™ is an online education program that helps students learn math, social studies, business, economics and language skills while focusing on the importance of long-term savings and investment.
  • The Economics Challenge, a competition for teams of high school students in which they test their knowledge of economics. Economics Challenge is competitive and fun, and offers an atmosphere where economic knowledge is tested and recognized. Student participants receive certificates of recognition, awards and accolades.

Throughout its 60 years of service, Econ Illinois has helped shape state requirements for economics and personal finance by assisting in the development of the original consumer education mandate in Illinois and in the development of the economics learning standards in Illinois. Econ Illinois has also been a leader in the national economic education network and has been involved in international economic education programs for more than 10 years.

Anne Kaplan, vice president of the Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Information Technologies, acknowledges Dempsey’s role in Econ Illinois’ global impact.

“Econ Illinois has benefited greatly from Joanne Dempsey’s leadership throughout the past 16 years,” Kaplan says. “Joanne has put Econ Illinois on the map, both nationally and internationally; an achievement that was evident in the kudos she received during the recent 60th anniversary celebration in Chicago. The children of Illinois have a more well-rounded education thanks to her and to Econ Illinois.”

by Andrew Pemberton

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