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Banzai! Financial Literacy at the Click of a Mouse

For a 13-year-old who likes sports or theater or science, financial literacy may be one of the furthest subjects from his/her mind. Now Banzai! is bringing finances to the forefront.

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“I didn’t know up to this point how fast the money drains down,” said Cameron Lajennesse, a seventh-grader at Ben Franklin Junior High School.

“It depends on what you spend it on,” said Tori Villarreal, a seventh-grade classmate. “You should spend it on the things you need, like food and if things break.”

“You can lose (money) fast, so don’t go to concerts,” added seventh-grader Tyler Whitney.

The seventh graders are part of Ben Franklin teacher Art Greco’s Business and Career Skills Class, which uses the software platform Banzai! to teach financial literacy. The program, sponsored in the Stevens Point Area Public School District schools by Central City Credit Union, allows teachers to introduce students to financial concepts such as how to saVe money, how to manage debt, how to balance a budget and how sometimes finances come down to tradeoffs. With the Central City Credit Union sponsorship, the online program is free of charge for the district’s use.

“They are learning the reality of spending money and how it works,” Greco said.

Each class period, Greco reviews what the students learned the previous class period, what they should be reviewing and working on that day in class, and checks their progress in effort and understanding.

As the class wraps up this third quarter, the students appear to enjoy the lessons. They eagerly answer questions from Greco about specifics of the program, how to translate pieces of the program into different terms.

“What do the money jars represent?” he asked.

“Saving money,” one student answered.

“Which is budgeting,” he said, and he asks them about the significance of financial literacy.

“It’s applicable to real life, it’s something you can use,” said Lajennesse, who later added that he wanted to save up for an iPad and then built his own computer realizing it would cost less.

Music played softly in the room as the students clicked into their computers and the pages they are working on. Some completed real life scenarios – whether moving through money jars, paying for items or organizing a budget – while others worked through workbooks and compared figures and reviewed financial terminology.

“I like it,” said Villarreal, who at age 12 is earning money through babysitting. “It does teach you about the world as far as finances.”

It is an important lesson P.J. Jacob’s Junior High School teacher Joni Miller is gearing up to teach her seventh-grade Business and Career Skills class beginning next week. As the years have passed and economies have changed, more terminology and technology has developed which students need to become familiar with, Miller said.

“When I was a kid, we needed to know how to write out a check and reconcile an account,” said Miller, who has been using the program since 2014. “Today, students not only need to have those skills, but also need to understand how online banking works, including direct deposit, online bill paying, identity theft protection, mobile banking and financial apps.”

As in Greco’s class, Miller begins with a pretest to gauge how much students know before delving in. Teachers also show students different resources that test their career skills and interests and can suggest possible jobs, from which the students can pull similar wages or salaries to use in their real life scenarios.

The program also identifies students’ strengths and weaknesses, and Greco and Miller will teach to those topics, reinforcing through Banzai! simulations, and finally there is a post-test to assess what the students have learned.

Greco pointed specifically to the importance of gaining that knowledge with his students.

“Now it’s applying that knowledge,” he said. “You can apply knowledge if you have it, that’s why knowledge is power.”

“I think Banzai is awesome,” Whitney said.

Banzai interactive courses are fun and FREE. Go ahead.