If you remember the board game “Life,” in which players moved around a board marked with financial milestones, the Banzai financial literacy program students are using at Stevens High School may seem familiar.
Sponsored by Claremont Savings Bank, the program works like a game that teaches students much of what they’ll need to know for managing their money in the real world. It’s free to the school district, and can also be found online for anyone interested in taking the course: go to teachbanzai.com.
Charlie Gessner teaches an economics course at the high school.
“I’m always looking for new stuff in my economics class,” said Gessner. “The students seem to really like it.”
The program is interactive, so students get to make financial decisions and then see the consequences of their decisions. Ryann Rider is one of a team of four girls who are working through the senior level: they’re trying to pay rent, keep up with car and utility bills, cover food and clothing, and save for college.
Along the way, they learn about credit: credit scores and what they mean, how to maintain good credit. They learn budgeting, as Rider demonstrates: in the game she’s suddenly hit with a car repair bill for $532 dollars, and she has to find the money somewhere.
They learn to shop wisely and set financial goals.
“I’ve always done things with spreadsheets,” said Gessner. “This is complementary to what I teach in the classroom. The beautiful thing about it is the students can work on it on their own time, and we can use the classroom time to answer their questions. The feedback I’ve gotten from them is very, very favorable.”
Gessner tests the students on what they’ve learned through the program and uses the results to gauge what they need to know. “My real curriculum ties into this.”
Banzai has been around for about 10 years and is on the open-source media platform Medium.com, which has as its mission the spread of useful ideas. There are other financial literacy programs, such as one offered by EVERFI, but Gessner likes this one because it’s so interactive. “I’m looking for products all the time,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we do with financial literacy. This has more activities they can do.”
“I think this program is helpful for anyone,” said Rider. “The different versions are more or less helpful depending on what you’re studying. In our class we have a budget. We have to pay for college expenses, and this helps us plan it out more.
“I like this game because it’s very accurate to real life,” said Rider.