Hundreds of middle school and high school students are getting a taste of the financial responsibilities and decisions that come with adulthood, even before they reach adult age.
Banzai, an interactive online program that aligns with state curriculum requirements for personal finance education, offers them this opportunity. It does so by opening up a virtual window through which 13- to 18-year-olds can get a hands-on experience at spending and saving, without suffering real-life consequences.
“Since we started the program in 2010, we have donated financial education materials and the Banzai online program to approximately 44 Berks County schools, educating 7,800 students,” said Tara A. McQuillen, director of marketing at Discovery Federal Credit Union.
Exeter High School is one of the schools where the credit union sponsors this program.
Having fun, planning
“Banzai is like a game where students are having fun and don’t realize how much they are planning,” said Anne Thomas, a Life 101 teacher at Exeter who has been using the program for the last four years. “I like to see them so engaged in the lesson,”
Banzai simulates real-life scenarios where students earn a paycheck and have to balance their income and expenses, plus put money aside for savings.
Thomas can see her students are doing better at understanding how to manage money, a critical skill often not learned at home.
“I’ve heard from students who are in college and don’t understand what they have to do and resort to using credit cards. Their parents wish they would have taken this class,” Thomas said.
Banzai started around 2007 when co-founder Morgan Vandagriff was working in wealth management and discovered the lack of financial knowledge by the average person.
“The kids have a hard time relating to a subject they have very little experience with. Financial literacy can be a boring subject. Banzai attempts to make it fun and engaging,” said Rachel Yentes, public relations specialist at Banzai.
She shared the company is currently developing an elementary curriculum that might be ready later this year.
Kayla Erb, a 17-year old attending Exeter, said Banzai puts into perspective how hard it is to save up, and how important it is to separate wants versus needs.
Similarly, her classmate Brianna Gruber, who’s also 17, stated Banzai helped her figure out how to budget money correctly and survive on her own. “I’m almost 18 where things get put into my hands. Without this class, I’d still be confused,” she said.
Other schools are having similar experiences with the program.
“Banzai is very different. The other options out there are workbooks with pages of explaining different principles, but knowing the definition of a word is very different than actually being able to handle money and make good decisions with money,” said Dietlinde Hoffman said, a special education teacher at Berks Christian School who used the program with her students last year and hopes to use it again in the near future.
Banzai is available in all 50 states. Schools can request the program and try to find a sponsoring bank or credit union at https://teachbanzai.com