TICONDEROGA — Dawn Bronson has taught the Banzai Program to her seventh- and eighth-grade students for three years at Willsboro Central School.
The financial literacy program educates young people how to manage their money and is a free resource for 44 local schools thanks to the sponsorship of the Ticonderoga Federal Credit Union.
“The program is excellent,” said Bronson, who teaches physical education, home, health and career.
“It's like a virtual reality, so for the kids it's a nice change of pace for them because it's not me telling them. It's actually them going through the whole process.”
LEARNING FISCAL HEALTH
Banzai is an online financial literacy course used by more than 45,000 teachers nationwide to help students become better stewards of their money, according to Nicole Hillman, who does public relations for the program.
It has three different programs.
• Banzai Junior is catered towards grades 3 through 6 and focuses on running a lemonade stand, managing profit, saving for more ingredients, etc.
• Banzai Teen is aimed at grades 7 through 12; it goes over topics such as paying rent, car insurance, saving for unexpected accidents, saving for college, and more.
• Banzai Plus is the adult program, for age 17 and older.
That program goes over credit, interest, how to qualify for a home, how much you need for a down payment on a home, how to identify theft, etc.
“Our goal for Banzai is to educate and inspire students to take their future into their own hands by developing positive money/financial habits,” Hillman said.
“The Banzai program helps students prepare for their financial future.”
WHY A BUDGET?
Bronson averages between eight and 10 students each cycle in Banzai.
“The budgeting portion, all of them are, like, why do I have to make budgets if I know I have this much money?” she said.
But she tells them they have to pre-plan.
"It really opens their eyes to why it is important to budget, why it's important to save. This program puts them through a scenario.”
The first phase is virtual lessons.
The second phase is a game.
“In the lessons, it kind of doesn't let them make a mistake,” Bronson said.
“In the game, they have to prioritize what they feel is important. So they are doing what they think they should be doing. At the end, they find out: Do I have enough money or don't I have enough money.”
Being in the plus, in the black, doesn't always mean the students made the best decisions either.
“It makes them think about credit cards,” she said.
“It makes them think about car payments, house payments, rent, groceries, going out to dinner and tipping people. That is not in the bill.”
NAVIGATING THE UNEXPECTED
Real-life scenarios include having a car break down.
“In the game, it asks you do you want to get it fixed or do you just want to buy a new one or do you want to look for a newer used car?” Bronson said.
“They have all these options, and then they start thinking, well, I don't want to do that.
"They really enjoy the program.”
The students complete Banzai in two-and-half to three weeks tops.
“I find that I have to tell them, all right, you have already played the game one time through — let's do the post-test.
"They have a pre-test and a post-test, and you can see the growth. The program is really nice. It puts it in perspective to a seventh- and eighth-grader.
LOCAL PARTNERBanzai partners with local banks and credit unions such as the Ticonderoga Federal Credit Union to make this tool completely free for teachers and students.
“Someone from Banzai reached out to us, and we did a call with them and looked at the program, and we just thought, wow, this is really awesome,” said Jennifer Pribble, marketing and business development manager at the Credit Union.
“It helps us with some of the commitments we have with being involved in the community and promoting financial literacy.”
The Credit Union sponsored 44 area schools.
“Then Banzai reaches out to the teachers to let them know that it is available,” Pribble said.
“It's 100 percent free for the schools and the teachers. All they have to do is go online. They can order booklets, and there's also the online classroom, as well, that makes it fun and interactive for the kids.”
Ticonderoga Credit Union established the program in 2016.
“It's been amazing,” Pribble said.
“When we first started, it was halfway through the school year. We started with 80 students. Now, we're over 3,000 students in 27 different schools that are involved.
"So, the program has grown.”
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