Schools in the valley are promoting financial education through programs such as Banzai and Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), which help expand access to financial literacy in many classrooms.
The Banzai Educational Resource follows Montana State Curriculum Requirements and provides a way for all members of the community to increase their financial literacy, including children. After completing a course, students will know how to track money, recognize financial tradeoffs, and plan for a financially healthy future.
Since 2018, Park Side Credit Union has been working with Banzai to develop financial literacy in the valley by investing time, money and industry experience to create the virtual resource to better equip its surrounding community. Banzai’s online program is made available to 23 schools in the valley in partnership with Park Side Credit Union.
The decision to educate students on financial responsibility comes from parents and local financial institutions who want the younger generations to be better equipped with financial skills to avoid future money problems.
“We see it as our responsibility to provide education to our members and our communities by providing financial literacy to people of all ages,” said Josh Kroll of Park Side Credit Union.
Kroll said that too often people find out too late that they can’t get more credit because of past mistakes. Park Side Credit Union saw the program as an opportunity to address these issues before they arise.
Teaching financial literacy can prepare young people for lifelong financial success. According to NGPF, high school graduates with a guaranteed financial education are 21% less likely to have a credit card balance while in school, to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA) 3.5% more often and use subsidized student loans 13% more often. Students who receive a financial education are also less likely to fall prey to high-cost predatory loans than their peers who do not have access to a personal finance program.
Teachers who register with the NGPF receive a free online toolkit as well as lesson plans and assessment for high school and middle school. Students learn about taxes, types of credit, investments, and insurance through classroom activities and question sets. Online “arcade games” also provide students with decision-making responsibilities regarding payment for college education and more.
Elizabeth Fetterhoff, a sixth-grade teacher at Bigfork Middle School, believes personal finance education is an investment in a child’s future financial well-being. She also hopes that developing financial skills will reduce mental health problems caused by worrying about money.
Banzai offers a variety of resources such as financial tools, articles, and lessons for free. Online courses challenge students to manage a budget, save for a goal, and face unexpected financial traps while teachers monitor and grade student progress.
Fourth-grade teacher Lee Stultz of Cayuse Prairie School integrates Banzai Junior, the elementary school curriculum, into her social studies class, where her 10-year-old students are introduced to the basics of real-world finance , like running a business, borrowing money and then paying it back.
“I think Banzai is great because he touches on the basics that students have never heard of,” Stultz said. “They learn about savings accounts, interest accounts, and if they put money aside it can grow.
Each Banzai course has content suitable for different ages and situations. Besides Banzai Junior, which is aimed at students aged 8 to 12, there is Banzai Teen for young adolescents and Banzai Plus for students aged 16 and over.
“Banzai engages students with game scenarios,” Kroll said. “An online avatar wants to go to the concert, but they also have to pay rent or save for a car, and students have to make those decisions. “
Recently, Park Side Credit Union partnered with ServeMontana so AmeriCorps volunteers could access the platform online as well.
“When employees don’t have money issues, a work environment is less stressful and more enjoyable, and teaching future employees financial literacy will have that impact,” said Kroll.
Interested educators can find out more about the NGPF Toolkit at www.ngpf.org. Educators and employers can access Banzai Financial Education at www.parksidefcu.com/education.