FREEPORT — When people read about the United States government’s trillions of dollars of debt, the response is often — “it is business as usual.” It’s hard to comprehend large amounts of money like that, and thankfully, the average person’s finances are not as complicated.
But what does the average student know about managing money and learning how to be responsible for it?
At Freeport Alternative High School, students work with a program called Banzai, which teaches financial literacy. It helps the students understand the consequences of unbalanced budgets and teaches them how to prioritize their spending decisions.
Banzai is a free program offered to the schools through Blackhawk Credit Union. It is a self-guided course that offers real-life scenarios. If students fail one, the program takes them back to the beginning before it allows them to advance to the next level.
Teacher Paul Everding began using the Banzai program in his classes at the end of 2016. He said he likes how the Banzai program tracks the progress of the student.
“It’s a wonderful program, and it’s that missing link we needed in the classroom,” Everding said. “It offers a resource with our curriculum that we didn’t have before, and it ties it to the student with a real-life experience. It prepares them for a financial experience and how to avoid the financial hole that many people get themselves into, and this is what we want to prevent.”
Melanie Macy, from Blackhawk Credit Union, said she reaches out to 26 school districts in the area to offer them the Banzai curriculum program. Blackhawk Credit Union has hosted a Mad City Money program since 2011, which is a reality fair that sets the student up by teaching them how to manage and spend money within a budget; the Banzai program takes the student to the next level of financial responsibility.
“We have learned that the Banzai program is something the student can immerse themselves with and it seems to stick with them,” Macy said. “Financial education is something I care about, and this program is proactive teaching and helps guide them before they come see someone like me.
“We feel like we are filling a gap by bringing this program to the schools. It’s a curriculum that is difficult for students to incorporate and by making it a self-guided computer program helps them work at their own pace. It’s one of the most important lessons a student can get.”
Ethan Shores, a junior at Freeport Alternative High School, said the program helped him realize that money management is more than just being “good” with money.
“Things can get in the way and it teaches me how to get out of the situation,” he said. “It’s complicated, but it helps me think about the responsibility I have with money and bills.”
For more information on the Banzai program, contact Macy at 815-273-4503 or by e-mail at Melanie.Macy@bacu.org.