Thirty students at Saratoga Springs High School experienced real-life financial situations, and they didn’t even have to leave the classroom.
Through a free partnership with Adirondack Trust Company, Family and Consumer Educator Beth Morris administered the Banzai Program, which offers simulations to illustrate financial decisions, to ninth- through 12th-graders during the Independent Living course.
Senior Cami Denning quickly adapted the lessons she learned to her everyday life. Denning is busy already. She volunteers, interns at two locations, works at McDonald’s and participates in church activities. After completing the simulation, Denning then started her own budget.
“Now when I get checks from work, I know I need to set aside this much money for this, I need to make sure that have this for next month when I have to pay this bill, so it’s really helped me figure out what I need to do with my money,” said Denning. “Where before I was like, I’m just going to spend it, and I’m sure I’ll have enough for later. Now I have a savings account, and I started putting money where it needs to go.”
Morris didn’t know what to expect. She explained the program during an 80-minute block in January, handing students booklets. The next class, three representatives from Adirondack Trust Company presented different elements to banking. Morris then instructed students to sign up using her code online. Morris could then see the progress students made on a spreadsheet under her account. The program sets up scenarios.
“The student gets into the scenario and has to figure out what they’re going to do to get themselves out of it, or into it or to the next step,” said Morris. “It’s extremely interactive, so the student is constantly engaged.”
Morris recalls students eagerly sharing scenarios.
“You’d hear students say, ‘I can’t afford that or this is ridiculous, car insurance shouldn’t cost that much’– the banter,” said Morris. “I wish I had taken all of their comments and saved them, because it was really delightful. That’s how involved they were. From the student who sometimes doesn’t pay attention to the student who never misses a beat. Everybody was on target. Everybody finished.”
All in all, students completed the program in five classes. Topics students simulated included paying rent, medical insurance, taxes, electric bills, what’s deducted from paychecks.
“It’s real valuable,” said Denning. “You learn a lot from it.”
The technology impressed the students even more so than Morris.
“This is hard to believe, but I think the techno-savvy teenagers were more impressed than me,” said Morris. “And they grew up with cell phones in their hands.”
Denning, who plans to study social work at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, said she liked how the software felt like a game.
“I wish my banking was like that. It’s so easy to just drag the money where it’s supposed to go,” said Denning. “It was so cool, and I wish banking was really like that, because it’s so intelligent.”