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Free Program Helps Sullivan Central Students Learn Personal Finance

BLOUNTVILLE — Do you pay your rent with cash, check or credit card? What about your funding sources for utilities and gasoline?

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Posted: Nov 24, 2015

When it comes to questions like this in personal finance classes at Sullivan Central High School, a local credit union is helping students by sponsoring a financial literacy program used as a class resource.

Banzai, an online financial literacy program, has been used at Central for three years. Information and signup are available at for the program. It is available nationwide for free through sponsors, including United Southeast Federal Credit Union locally.

Personal finance is a required course in Tennessee, in addition to economics, and teacher Becky Smith said it is taken during the spring or fall term by mostly sophomores and a few juniors and seniors.

“It’s (Banzai) one of the tools that we use to talk about financial responsibility,” Smith said Tuesday. This term, Smith, Matt Hawn and Ginger Shackekford teach personal finance classes, and in the spring term they will be joined by teacher Sherrie Spiegler.

“It’s school work so it’s not going to be the most fun, but I did learn a lot,” said Dimitri Morales, 17, and a senior in Shackelford’s class.

He said Banzai and the class have helped him know better how to save money for college, which he plans to attend in the fall at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and possibly major in broadcasting.

“It really just prepares you for the real world,” said Paula Faidley, 15, and a sophomore in Smith’s class. She plans to go to East Tennessee State and major in computer science.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing to teach us about finance,” Paula said. “It teaches me the importance of knowing where my money goes.”

United Southeast sponsors Banzai in Sullivan County as well as Washington and Russell counties in Virginia.

The program is utilized at Central and Tennessee High in Bristol, but Tiffany Goforth of the credit union said she would like to see it expand to other schools in Kingsport and Sullivan County.

Goforth said the important points are that teachers need to know the opportunity to use Banzai is free and that a strong financial literacy program is important for students.

Goforth said the program addresses managing debt, reconciling bank statements, balancing budgets and making tradeoffs using real-life simulations.

Shackelford, who is teaching the class and using Banzai for the first time, said the program has four parts and is presented over a week or two. First is a pre test, followed by a series of scenarios in which students choose to pay for fuel, rent, groceries, utilities and other expenses with either cash, check or credit card, followed by a game where they apply what they learned in the scenarios. Last, there is a test.

“I thought it was great,” said senior Keri Vanfine, 17, who is in Shackelford’s class. “The last scenarios really helped.”

Also, at the end of the program, the credit union offers to match $20 if the a student deposita $20 in a new account at United Southeast. That will help Vanfine, who plans to attend ETSU and pursue a degree in geosciences.

Nationwide, the program is used by more than 17,000 teachers and is available in all 50 states.

“It’s like playing the game of Life with real money,” Smith said of students, who use workbooks and an online program to budget, pay bills, handle sudden, unexpected expenses, deal with over budgeting and other issues and scenarios they will face as adults.

As for finances in public education, given budget constraints, Smith said it is unlikely the school system would have the program without the credit union’s sponsorship.

At Tennessee High, teacher Tammy English uses the program.

Teachers interested in using the Banzai program can visit or call 888-8-BANZAI.

Banzai interactive courses are fun and FREE. Go ahead.