Originally posted on The Mitchell Republic
MITCHELL — Youth have many lessons to learn in school before they enter the work-a-day world. Time management and other organizational skills are among the traits students must embrace before they head out to their college experience or their first job.
Also important is financial literacy, and thanks to a recent donation from BankWest, several schools in South Dakota, including Mitchell Middle School, are benefiting from an online program aimed to bring them up to speed in managing their bank account in a fun, engaging way.
“Seventh graders don’t have a lot of money, but to start thinking about categories of money is important,” Suzanne Skinner, a teacher at Mitchell Middle School, told the Mitchell Republic.
The program to which she’s referring is known as Banzai, an online financial literacy program and content library of articles, calculators and personalized coaches. All the program resources are available to students at home or in the classroom via any device that can access the internet, according to a release from BankWest.
The program provides a foundation of practical knowledge and gives students the tools to create a sound financial future. It allows students to learn while teachers can easily monitor and grade their progress remotely.
BankWest recently sponsored the program at 14 schools across South Dakota, delivering the tools and resources to over 2,640 students and teachers across the state. The sponsorship includes online and print materials. Banzai is used by over 80,000 teachers across the United States, and the courses align with South Dakota curriculum requirements.
In addition to the online courses with Banzai, BankWest also offers virtual or in-classroom presentations from local experts on timely topics.
Skinner said the donation allowed access to the program for at least 200 students at Mitchell Middle School, including classes in financial savings and FCCLA classes. The program offers a flexibility that is handy when students progress at different rates. The grading option provided by the program is a welcome feature, as well, she said.
Without the sponsorship of BankWest, it likely would not be used in her classrooms, she said.
“(The donation) is very significant. I would not have any of the print versions without them providing them. If they didn’t provide it, we’d have to scramble to find something else,” Skinner said. “There are other programs out there online, but this is by far my favorite and the most effective for the students.”
Liz Salmonson, branch manager for BankWest in Mitchell, said good financial literacy is a benefit to everyone, from the students themselves to the community at large.
“BankWest partnered to help bring more financial literacy options for our students in Mitchell. It’s such a great opportunity to foster another way for students to learn about their finances and open a door at a younger age, so when they become 18 or move away or go to school, they have some background,” Salmonson said.
Even for adults with insurance policies and mortgages, finance is not often the most fun topic of conversation. For younger people, mastering its subtleties can even be intimidating, which is something Salmonson said BankWest wanted to help address.
“By bringing it into the classroom, it is more fun and safer, even some of the tougher lessons,” Salmonson said.
Morgan Vandagriff, co-founder of Banzai, said the partnership with BankWest is getting important lessons into the hands of students who may not otherwise have access to its resources and utilities.
“Banzai is a web-based financial literacy program. Kids get their own accounts, and they work through assignments that are based on real life,” Vandagriff said in a press release. “But because BankWest is sponsoring it, local schools get it for free. More than ever, it’s important that kids develop sound financial skills to prepare them for the real world, and BankWest realizes that and they’re doing something about it.”
Skinner confirmed that the program is highly beneficial for her students. The students have responded positively, as well. Some students just starting out with the program have heard about it from upperclassmen and are excited to get started, she said.
That added motivation is a benefit of Banzai, as well, she said.
“They love it. They say ‘Oh, we’ve heard about this! When do we get to start that?’” Skinner said.
Salmonson said response to the program across the state has been similar to Skinner and her students. She said BankWest is proud to be able to bring good resources to the table for those classrooms, but the primary credit goes to the teachers who effectively implement the program into their lessons and bring the importance of financial literacy to light for their students.
“The teachers really like it, and the students are really liking it. Just from the feedback we’ve gotten, it’s making it fun,” Salmonson said. “(Teachers are reaching out) to us for this avenue to bring some of this literacy into the classroom. It’s a huge credit to the teachers.”
Poor financial management skills can spell ruin for a bank account or someone’s future plans. With so much riding on those skills, it can make the subject scary from the start. But through programs like Banzai, the corporate support from entities like BankWest and the dedication of teachers engaging students in their lessons, it can be so much more than simply balancing a checkbook ledger.
“Finances don’t have to be scary, but they have to be taken seriously,” Salmonson said.