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Superbowl champion speaks at Niwot High


February 19, 2020 | View PDF

Courtesy Photo

Ryan Harris, an offensive tackle for the Denver Broncos Superbowl 50 Champion, retired from professional football in 2017. Since then, he has become a radio and stage presence, and on Thursday, February 13th, he stood on the stage of the Niwot High School Auditorium, holding out a $100 bill. "Who wants a hundred dollar bill?" he asked.

It was the tail end of a talk on personal financial literacy. Historically, this subject has been tackled piecemeal by standards embedded in disparate units. But starting with the class of 2021, Personal Financial Literacy will be a graduation requirement for the Saint Vrain Valley School District. "This district is pretty cutting edge," said Ken Benson, Niwot High School PFL teacher.

Impetus for introducing the subject began with the 2008 financial crisis. As Benson pointed out, people realized, "One of the reasons we're in this mess is because people don't understand how to manage their own finances."

Benson and other SVVSD teachers--including Chris Barnes and Chris Reynolds--spent two years developing an online PFL textbook. Benson is now teaching his sixth semester of the subject and was joined last fall by a second teacher, Lyle Tucker.

Tucker heard Ryan Harris speak at a MoneyWi$er workshop last April. "I immediately knew that same day his message should be heard by high school students," said Tucker. With support from the Niwot High School Education Foundation and Great-West Financial, his vision became a reality.

Harris stepped up to the stage to enthusiastic applause. The first question he posed to his audience-- "Are you going to make money in your life, yes or no?"

Harris went on to summarize his career, with its highs and lows. At one point, he was told his football career was over. But Harris wouldn't accept that answer. He came back for his ninth year and a win at the Superbowl. "Mindset makes all the difference," he said.

Harris walked students through shifting their mindset to, "I am, I can, I will," to help them overcome the odds and achieve their goals. He also offered three pragmatic pieces of advice concerning buying. Delay your purchases. Unlearn debt. And consider not only the price of an item, but its cost--its impact on top of the expenses of daily life.

One of his major points: "Real money doesn't look rich." He encouraged students to think twice about what they really need and to embrace frugality.

Harris's message tied into the subjects students study in Personal Financial Literacy. Benson and Tucker use tools such as EverFi and Next Gen to help teach students about a variety of subjects--income, employment, 401ks, mutual funds, banking, saving, investing, financing higher education, insurance, and taxes. Stock Market Experience even allows students to participate in a simulated stock market experience.

"I like to think of my class as an awareness class," said Benson. "Even if students don't apply what they learn right away, they have a framework for understanding situations they will encounter later in life."

Amy Scanes-Wolfe

Retired football star Ryan Harris speaks at Niwot High School.

The resonance of Harris's message was evident in the numerous questions that surfaced after the talk. Some were straightforward (e.g .; how tall are you?) but others really probed at the students' futures and opportunities for success. One student asked about how to rise up in a workplace. Harris's answer: "Pick up a shovel and dig."

When Harris concluded by offering up his $100 bill, Mr. Tucker ran up to the stage, waving his arms.

"Sorry, there is an age limit, sir," said Harris.

A few moments later, several students caught on and rushed the stage themselves. Raiden Stahly, freshman, was the one who managed to snatch the bill from Harris's hand.

When the crowd settled down, Harris asked Stahly why he was the one who got the money. After a moment, Stahly came up with the right answer--"I took the opportunity." Harris used this as a memorable illustration that success and wealth come to those who are willing to seize the opportunity in front of them.


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