Perry Bentsen loves it when he can tell that students are learning a tough topic such as financial literacy.
Bentsen, a high school math educator in the Rock Island-Milan School District, leads ESL, or English as a Second Language, classes at Rock Island High School. He has used the Banzai financial literacy program for the past two years.
In math, Bentsen said the curriculum is a great reinforcement of life skills, especially for young wage earners. “It’s challenging, but it’s not above their heads. They do learn the financial responsibilities they will have one day,” he said.
Banzai is a curriculum used by more than 20,000 teachers nationwide to educate students on how to be better money stewards. The company pairs with local sponsors — in this case it’s Ascentra Credit Union — to provide the program at no cost to schools.
Banzai works like this:
A booklet, printed on slick, glossy paper, is given to each participant. The students take a pre-test to gauge their initial level of understanding.
Students next work through story problems to introduce the Banzai program. Teachers have their own edition for lesson planning.
There is a game where students enter a real-life online simulation on what they have learned. They also make various decisions to end with a final goal: Saving $2,000 for college.
A posttest measures how much students learned in the class.
Banzai is geared to middle- and high-school students, ages 13-18 years old, but also has been used by some colleges, according to Rachel Yentes, a company representative.
Alvaro Macias, with Ascentra Credit Union, said his company sponsors the program as a service to the community. “We know there is a need for financial literacy with younger people,” he said, citing a statistic: Young people 18-24 years old have a much higher rate of bankruptcy compared to other age groups.
The curriculum is neutral when it comes to financial institutions — it teaches what checking and savings accounts are, as well as credit cards, and how to budget for groceries, car expenses, insurance, rent and other needs.
Banzai was used by almost 1,000 students in Clinton, Scott and Muscatine counties, according to Macias.
Some teachers showed appreciation to Ascentra and to Banzai in thank-you notes:
“We just completed our Banzai Life Scenarios today, and the students thoroughly enjoyed it! … I enjoyed using the scenarios and game as a way to engage the students to explore some of these important topics in more detail …” Debbie, Pleasant Valley High School.
“Thank you, Ascentra. I have used Banzai in my consumer classes for several years. I love how it helps me to reinforce not only checking, but also budgeting. My students like the program and enjoy using Banzai.” Mary, Moline High School.