Groups partner to help students build a financial foundation

Published 10:40 am Monday, April 27, 2015

Area students are getting a taste of paying bills and loans a little earlier.

To help students better understand financial budgeting, Accentra Credit Union partnered with area schools to provide students a series of learning tools through Banzai — an online financial literacy program for local educators and youth. Accentra is paying for the class, and Bonzai is providing materials.

Accentra Marketing Director Anna Olson said one of the main goals is to help students learn to budget so they’re ready for the future.

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“We just want to give [students] a good foundation for their financial future,” Olson said.

Austin Public Schools college and career readiness teacher Alli Wagner has used the online class in her eighth-grade class since the beginning of the school year.

“Most classes have really loved it because it’s kind of a game and they like that part about it,” Wagner said.

The unit is about two weeks long, and Wagner said it starts by explaining what a budget is and helping the students learn to write their own budget. Afterward, they start the online program, which comes with a workbook called “Life Scenarios.” The students must pay rent, a phone bill, save for college, pay for gas, groceries and other real-life expenses. The virtual money goes in jars so students can see where their money is going each time they get a “paycheck.” They can also decide to use a “credit card” and must learn to pay that bill also.

“So they get the idea of how that works too,” Wagner said. “Like paying it back.”

As the program progresses, students choose between homes and decide whether to purchase a new car when theirs breaks down, and they learn to deal with other things as they come up, such as medical emergencies or accidents. At the end, students were required to have $2,000 for college, whether through saving over time or by taking money from other expenses.

“It’s intended to give them real life scenarios that obviously happen during real life,” Wagner said.

After the program there is a test and reflection of what they learned. Wagner said a lot of times she has many students say they don’t think the program is realistic because they have to spend all their money on bills.

“They do learn in the end that they might not have as much money as they think they have,” Wagner said.

Accentra has partnered with about 42 area schools for the program, including schools in Mower, Freeborn, Olmsted and Winona Counties.

“We’ve gotten really good feedback from the teachers that have used it,” Olson said. “It’s a very straightforward program.”

Olson said there has been an uptick in the number of teachers utilizing the program, and the credit union will send a representative to the classrooms if the teachers request.

“We feel like it’s a good way for us to give back,” Olson said.

Wagner hopes the lessons stick with the students as they start getting jobs and being in charge of their own paychecks.

“Just understanding that money is more than what they think it is,” she said. “They need to spend it wisely rather than just spending it on everything. And the understanding that you really do need to save up — starting now — for college.”

Wagner said she is thankful her parents only allowed her 10 percent of her paycheck when she had a job in high school, saving the rest for college, though at the time it was frustrating.

“Just knowing that it’s worth it in the end, even though it’s a pain when you actually have to save,” Wagner laughed.

She thanked Accentra for providing funding for the program.

“It’s a program that’s worked really well for the students here, and they’ve actually enjoyed it,” Wagner said. “Whereas budgeting could be really boring, I think, so it makes it a lot of fun.”

Olson said it’s likely Accentra will continue funding the program for the schools in the future as it has had such good reviews. Banzai’s curriculum is used by more than 14,000 teachers in all 50 states.

“It gives [students] an opportunity to know that we’re here, and we’re willing to work with them as a younger member,” Olson added.