The students at Erik Ramstad Middle School have money on their minds, and Banzai on their computers.
“Banzai is pretty awesome,” seventh-grader Nick Schumann said of the educational computer game. “It teaches you how to save and spend your money.”
Exciting and interactive, Banzai is a software program that is raising financial literacy, and helps students learn the value of a dollar.
Neveah Mellon is a seventh-grade student at Erik Ramstad Middle School, who carefully decides how to invest her paycheck using the Banzai financial literacy software.
“It’s really fun to hear the students’ reactions,” Banzai public relations manager Rachel Yentes said. “The teachers will bring us in and it’s common to hear the students say, ‘Now I know what my parents go through.’ It’s good to see students developing a respect for their parents and being grateful for the things they do. Students are learning about insurance plans and what taxes are and how they work. It’s fun to see how the students learn and react to real life scenarios.”
Brooke Keller is a seventh-grade student who enjoys the challenging choices that come with playing Banzai.
“I’ve learned a lot about paying bills,” Keller said. “Saving money for rent, going out to eat, and putting money in savings are things I have learned. Right now, there’s a T-shirt I want from the mall, but I need to save money to build my home. I’ll save the money and get the T-shirt later.”
In an age where student loans and credit card debt have crushed the financial hopes of many, the seventh-graders at Erik Ramstad Middle School are quickly learning the importance of financial literacy.
“There are over 30 scenarios,” seventh-grade digital technology teacher Sandra Larson said. “It begins with the student’s first paycheck, in which they pay their rent and save money to attend a concert. During the show, the students are injured and suddenly their life changes. While being treated at the hospital, it’s discovered they don’t have insurance, and now they have to pay a larger fee. Right away, the students have to deal with parking tickets, loans, overdraft fees, tax refunds and a variety of scenarios that tests the students ability make good monetary choices.”
Another feature that makes the game entertaining is the use of jargon. During games students can find scenarios that read, “Your mom is all up in your grill about getting renters insurance.”
As the students read the scenarios, laughter fills the classroom before the students quietly plot their financial future. Actively engaged and financially wiser, students strive to master Banzai.
“I think its game simulation is what makes Banzai stand out,” Yentes said. “Different programs will go through the vocabulary aspect of financial literacy, but I haven’t seen a program that has a game like Banzai. So, once the students have learned all the financial materials that the teacher goes through with them, the students go to the game which simulates real life experiences which to assess their ability to manage money. For example, students have to decide, am I going to buy a used car or a new car.”
For seventh-grader Nolan Mathew, buying cars and acquiring wealth is a thrilling experience.
“My favorite part of the game is learning how to make money, “Mathew said. “Making money is what I like to do, and staying out of debt is what I’m learning.”
Deeper-level learning and independent thinking are two facets that come with Banzai.
“Banzai so important to the students because they’re learning how to be independent,” Larson said. “A lot of this is about making smart choices. Kids are asking themselves am I saving my money or am I spending it. Banzai is helping students to plan and save for their future.”
Seventh-grader Neveah Mellon shared her recent experience of paying rent and earning a paycheck.
“I am paying rent on Banzai and it’s explaining to me how to pay for my new apartment,” Mellon said. “Now the game is asking me to sell something and after I receive the money, I have to put the money into a jar.”
In Banzai, jars are used to store money and cover the cost of food, rent, utilities, college, or other expenses. Aside from the jars, Banzai players are given the choice of placing their money into a checking, savings, or credit card account.
After earning $835, Mellon has to decide how to invest her gain.
“I’m going to put some of the money toward my college fund, utilities and other expenses,” Mellon said.
Saving for college is one of the major goals Banzai has for children.
“The whole object of the Banzai game is for students to save money for college,” Yentes said. “In the game, it takes $2,000 to go to college. What’s great about this game is that it gets students thinking about saving for higher education. This way, students are not just thinking about getting a scholarship, they are also planning ways to earn and save money for college.”
Students and teachers alike are endorsing Banzai.
“Banzai is great and it’s wonderful to have something so beneficial for free,” Larson said. “If I had this when I was younger, I probably could’ve started my life off a little differently. I went to my parents for a lot of financial information, and some of these kids don’t have that rapport with their parents yet. Banzai gives the students an idea of what it’s like to budget money, and maybe when they get to high school and have their first job, some of the students will be talking to their parents more about finances.
Aside from gaining praise from educators, financial institutions are also supporting Banzai.
“I think it’s very good to be a part of this program,” said Beth Nelson, marketing director at Prairie Federal Credit Union. “It’s great to have the opportunity to collaborate with teachers, by coming to the classrooms and doing presentations about budgeting and managing credit. We cover everything from debit cards, credit cards, and discussing the importance of a credit score. Our partnership with the teachers is helping kids in the long run to make the best financial decisions possible.”
With success at the middle and high school levels, Banzai has hopes to integrate their software to elementary aged students.
“We’ve had a lot of requests to develop an elementary curriculum,” Yentes said. “As of now, Banzai is geared toward middle and high school age students. However, we’re working on an elementary program this summer and hopefully by the end of the year we can get that up and running. Our goal is to reach out and help as many students that we can. It will be great to help the elementary age students and teach financial literacy at an even younger age.”
Across the country and one classroom at a time, Banzai is helping every child learn how to build a financially secure future.