For many youngsters, bills, bank accounts, and credit card debt are grown up problems, but some Alexandria students are already dealing with these very adult concerns.
Area teachers have partnered with CommonWealth One Federal Credit Union to bring a new financial literacy software called Banzai into their classrooms. The program engages students in real-life scenarios that teach them about the importance of saving, understanding credit, and spending wisely.
Banzai, which is based out of Provo, Utah, was co-founded by Morgan Vandagriff and Kendall Buchanan. Vandagriff was working in wealth management and was astounded by how little his clients knew about handling their finances.
Vandagriff got the idea to create a software that would help young people get a head start on taking charge of their money. He thought if you start them at a younger age, when they are developing, that’s when they should get info good habits, before they get into college and the real life.
Banzai works by presenting students with scenarios that reflect choices they will have to make with their money in adulthood. What makes Banzai unique is that the scenarios are interactive. Each time students engage with the software, the outcomes differ based on their choices. The PR Manager at Banzai said, “No two students are facing the same simulation. One student might get one scenario and one might get another. Every decision that they choose puts them in a different direction. Their goal is saving $2,000 for college.”
The software presents students with a pre-test that assess their current knowledge, various modules that teach skills and vocabulary, a game wherein they can try out what they learned in a fun and interactive way, and finally a post-test that reports on how much progress they’ve made.
The program is aligned with all state curriculums. Virginia public schools now require high school students to pass a Standard of Learning (SOL) test in Economics and Personal Finance, and Banzai can be used to help students prepare for that test.
Most importantly, however, is that it is entirely free for teachers who work in sponsored areas. In a given area, Banzai is sponsored by a local credit union. In Alexandria, Banzai is sponsored by CommonWealth One Federal Credit Union.
Chris Shrieves, the Youth Financial Program Coordinator at CommonWealth one, says that the software is an important component in encouraging smart spending habits early on. Through his role with CommonWealth One, Shrieves spends a great deal of time going into Alexandria schools and community centers to connect with young people and encourage them to start thinking now about how to manage their money.
“I’m out there and I’m doing the best I can to teach them financial education, the importance of saving your money at a financial institution rather than saving at home, the difference between wants and needs, the actual different tools that financial institutions have to help you manage your money,” Shrieves said.
Unlike a bank, a credit union is a member-owned, nonprofit organization. Since credit unions are not aiming to make money off of their members, they make a concerted effort to educate their service area about financial literacy.
Over the past few years, Shrieves has relied on Banzai to help him achieve his mission of encouraging young people to value money. According to Shrieves, the best thing about Banzai is it can make learning about money fun for young people. “They do a rather impressive job of creating this entertaining real-life scenario game,” Shrieves said.
While the software itself is free to anyone, CommonWealth One supports teachers by providing booklets that are used to accompany the program. Any school in the sponsored area, which for CommonWealth One is all of Alexandria and two zip codes in Washington, can request the booklets and they will be provided at the expense of the credit union. Even if teachers don’t work in a sponsored area, they can still use the software and online resources without any cost to them or their schools.