Fort Community Credit Union is teaming up with 30 local schools to promote financial literacy for students.
Through FCCU’s sponsorship, schools have free access to the financial literacy program, Banzai, which educates youngsters and teens about how to manage their money.
Emily Inman, public relations manager for Banzai, said the software platform is designed to introduce students to adult financial dilemmas.
“The program features real-life simulations to illustrate the concepts in a fun and meaningful way,” she said. “Our goal is for students to finish Banzai with a better understanding of the importance of budgeting, preparing for emergencies and spending responsibly.”
Banzai aims to give students hands-on financial literacy tools to prepare them for a successful future.
Marissa Weidenfeller, director of marketing for FCCU, said that the program started in 2013 and has been growing since. The credit union has sponsored 30 schools, involving 36 different teachers and impacting 3,280 students.
Districts and schools involved include Jefferson and Fort Atkinson high schools, Whitewater schools, Johnson Creek schools, the JEDI Virtual Academy, Jefferson and Fort Atkinson’s alternative high schools, St. John the Baptist Catholic School and St. John’s Lutheran School in Jefferson, St. Joseph’s Catholic School and St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Fort Atkinson, and many more. A full list can be found on fortcommunity.teachbanzai.com.
“Our mission is to help every (credit union) member be in a better financial position than when they started,” Weidenfeller said. “Financial literacy is a huge part of who we are.”
Getting this program into the local schools helps the entire community, she said, stating that it not only prepares young students — from elementary schoolchildren on up — to make better financial decisions, but it also can have a positive impact on the parents of those youngsters, some of whom don’t have a good background or education in financial literacy.
As a financial cooperative, Fort Community Credit Union must give back any money it makes to the members and community in the form of products and services or community support.
“This is part of a whole list of things we do,” Weidenfeller said. “Like, we have a game on our website for young students called “Money Island,” she said. “We have also partnered with the Filene Research Institute of Madison and we got to be part of the development of the product, ‘Debt Dragon,’ which helps students understand what it will cost to go to college or technical school.”
Debt Dragon allows students to select their chosen school, with practically every college, university or technical school across the nation listed, and to determine what their costs would be to attend. That’s not just tuition, but also such incidentals as housing and travel costs, depending on whether they plan to live on or near campus or to commute.
“Students find there’s a big differential (in cost) if they want to go out of state,” Weidenfeller said. “They have to ask, ‘Is my (projected) salary really going to justify my student loan payments?”
In the schools
Diane Weinheimer-Webber, business education teacher at Jefferson High School, said that she has been using the Banzai program as a supplement in the personal finance class, during the financial statements unit.
Webber said that the program is really hands-on, allowing students to work through the process of setting a budget, paying bills and reconciling their checkbook.
In the introduction, all students face the same costs as they learn how to use the program, setting aside money for groceries, gas, housing costs and other needs while still saving enough for college.
Then comes the game portion, in which everyone works on his or her own and the program randomly selects circumstances that impact how much money participants can set aside in a given month.
For example, a vehicular breakdown could add several-hundred dollars or more in unexpected costs, as could a medical issue.
“It really brings the idea of budgeting to life for students,” Webber said. “It’s time-consuming, but they see the importance.”
Webber said that Jefferson High School probably could not afford a program like this without FCCU’s sponsorship.
She noted that her classes also see great support from other financial institutions, as well as other community businesses. Her class regularly works with PremierBank and County-City Credit Union, and she actually sits on the latter’s board. In addition, local insurance firms have played a big role in helping students understand the financial responsibilities they’ll face as adults, for example.
Webber said these local institutions, firms and other businesses provide her department with guest speakers on a variety of topics, connect students with resources they couldn’t otherwise access, and provide vital help with Reality Day, which Jefferson High School hosts every year.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” she said.
Jude Hartwick, who oversees Fort Atkinson’s Crossroads alternative high school program, said that being able to use the Banzai program is of “tremendous value” to his students.
‘”We teach a lot of financial literacy,” Hartwick said. “We have an individual from FCCU come in and talk with our students about the concept of savings, what credit means, and so forth. They also provide us with the Banzai computer program.
“What I like most about Banzai is that it is computer-based — it’s not the old-fashioned check register. Using paper checks has really gone by the wayside, and even banks nowadays don’t give people their checks back,” the educator continued. “So having students work on a computer to reconcile their accounts makes sense. It’s how people do it today, and it keeps my teaching up to date.”
Through this hands-on experience, Hartwick said, students gain experience virtually so they don’t wind up making beginner’s mistakes with their real money.
“Learning about overdrafts, for example. That’s an important thing to know. If you write a check for more than is in your account, you don’t just have to pay the amount you owe — there’s an additional charge, and it can pile up fast.
“The whole Banzai program is based on budgeting, so you’re only spending money you have in your account to begin with,” Hartwick said.
The Fort Atkinson educator said he feels the program has a truly positive impact, adding that he has seen students make connections with their daily lives and change their behavior as a result of this program.
“I had one student who did some basic accounting and found out that the latté they got every day at McDonald’s for about $1.99 was costing them about $15 per week. That’s $780 a year of spending money that student didn’t have, based on a minor purchase.
The next day, the student came in and announced, “I’m not doing that anymore.”
Hartwick said he is grateful for FCCU’s role in reaching out to local schools to make this available.
As Webber said about the Jefferson community, Hartwick said that the Fort Atkinson community has been really supportive of the local schools, supporting this and other programs that help local students.
“It’s great to have the local credit unions and banks reach out like this,” he said.