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GCS Offers Riverbend-Area Schools Financial Education Program

Area teachers are getting a helping hand in educating students about financial literacy, thanks to a partnership between a local credit union and an instructional software company.

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The program, which is being spearheaded by GCS Credit Union — which has an Alton location, and operates several other branches in the St. Louis area — aims to put a software program called Banzai into area classrooms, at no charge to the schools. GSC is giving away 49 licenses to the program to local teachers, according to the company that developed Banzai.

“Banzai is an online financial education platform,” Lauren McGee, GCS’s Marketing and Business Development Manager, said. “It is designed to help students learn by doing. Through Banzai, GCS Credit Union helps teach students to navigate adult financial dilemmas with real-life scenarios.”

GCS Credit Union partnered with Banzai in 2012. This partnership has made curriculum available to Collinsville, Edwardsville, Alton, Bethalto, Granite City, Madison, Troy, and O’Fallon city schools completely free, McGee added.

McGee, who said the program replicates everything “from taming a budget and paying auto insurance to navigating taxes,” said it would teach students in middle and high school a valuable tool set.

“It’s about giving young people a skill that will last a lifetime,” McGee said.

Tracey Summers, an Alton High School teacher who uses Banzai in her curriculum, in comments provided by GCS, said the program was a real benefit to students.

“This program will be something they will always remember as a reality assignment that clicked the light bulb on about finances,” she said.

Leah Huelsmann, a sixth- through eighth-grade math teacher at St. Mary’s School in Edwardsville, also said the program has helped supplement lessons for her students.

“I heard about the Banzai program through another teacher friend of mine that I went to school with, and she uses it as an additional tool in her classroom, and I thought it would be a nice enrichment tool,” Huelsmann said Friday.

Huelsmann said the simulations are accurate in relation to real-life situations.

“Here’s your tire receipt for new tires,” she said. “What are you going to do with it? Are you taking it out of your savings account, are you taking it out of your checking account or are you putting it on a credit card? They have to make that decision.”

The program also gives students an appreciation for the difficulties their parents face in making financial decisions, Huelsmann said.

“It lets them try it, before they have to try it in real life,” she said.

Local teachers can sign up for the software for free at

Banzai interactive courses are fun and FREE. Go ahead.