Westmont Magazine Learning Economics and Helping Kids
As a young teacher, Jamie DeVries ’95 faced an unwelcome challenge: teach AP Economics at San Marcos High School. “I wondered how I could engage students in a dry, one-dimensional subject,” he says. “I knew I had to make dramatic changes to keep from being bored myself.”
His solution has trans- formed the class, the students and the community: teach economics through student- run projects that help people in need. In 2002, the AP Economics class organized a penny drive and a restaurant night that contributed $12,000 to the local Santa Barbara Unity Shoppe.
Thirteen years later, five sections of AP Economics worked together to raise $300,000 through the non-profit organization Kids Helping Kids (KHK). Since 2009, the students have organized and produced a series of smaller fundraising events during the fall, culminating in a benefit concert at the Granada Theatre in January featuring artists such as Mat Kearney, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Tyrone Wells, Sara Bereilles, Switchfoot and Andy Grammer. Each year, the classes strive to set a new record, and graduates often return to assist. They’ve raised $1.8 million, and four schools have copied them.
“I wanted to make lessons come to life through real-world applications,” Jamie says. “But I never expected it to be more than a class exercise.” In recognition of his innovative teaching, Jamie was named 2010-11 Santa Barbara County Distinguished Educator.
Working in teams to plan and produce the events, students apply lessons about variable and fixed costs, supply and demand, accounting, marketing and non-profit management. Experts such as a corporate attorney, a CPA and a marketing executive advise and teach them. The lessons stick; 90 percent of the students who take the AP Economics exam pass it.
All projects assist youth in some way, and the AP classes decide how to allocate the proceeds. In addition to supporting the Unity Shoppe, they’ve funded three international projects: a safe house for at-risk children in Nicaragua, a preschool in Rwanda and clean-water systems in Honduras. They meet individual requests that San Marcos students drop into a Jar of Dreams, such as assistance with medical bills and funding for an electric wheelchair. KHK also established the San Marcos Fund to cover the cost of standardized tests and college applications for low-income students.
Two years ago, Jillian Wilber ’13 joined Jamie in teaching AP Economics. A history major and basketball player at Westmont, she learned her economics from Jamie, who studied economics and business at Westmont. “KHK is the single most life-changing thing I could have done,” she says.
Jamie and his wife, Tiffany Schoemaker DeVries ’99, are raising a future AP Economics student, their 1-year-old daughter. Tiffany serves as the dean of students at the Music Academy of the West.
“You can follow Jesus Christ as a public school teacher,” Jamie says. “How you treat students and care for them says more than words. The real meaning in life comes from serving people.”