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Banzai: Bringing Financial Education to the Classroom

Above illustration by Justine Lecouffe

Chances are you didn’t learn much about personal finance in school.

Maybe you were taught how to balance a checkbook, or the basics of budgeting. But amidst the core curriculum of math, science, reading and writing – think Bunsen-burner science projects, confusing algebraic equations and book reports on Huck Finn – there was likely little time dedicated to financial literacy.

As of 2018, there were only 17 states that mandated high school students to complete a course in personal finance. And 50 percent of high school seniors say they wish they had learned more about personal finance in high school.

But the lack of money management classes in no way diminishes their importance – studies have shown that financially literae students are more likely to experience financial stability and overall wellness.

Banzai is attempting to close the financial literacy gap – and it’s off to a great start. So far, the organization provides online lessons in personal finance to more than 80,000 k-12 teachers across the country. The lessons cover everything from saving and budgeting to setting financial goals.

The courses are offered to elementary, middle and high school students.

“There are so many things to learn about financial literacy. And I don’t think it’s always taught in schools,” said Banzai Public Relations Specialist Elisabeth Fitts. “Our program is trying to bridge that gap.”

Banzai got its start 15 years ago, when its founders, based in Provo, Utah, decided that students needed to learn early on about financial pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Banzai features courses and articles with colorful comic book-like illustrations that come with real-life scenarios for youngsters: you want to buy a bike and need to start saving; you’re starting a lemonade stand and are looking to make a profit.

But the courses also touch on more complex issues like investing, compound interest and retirement savings.

Fitts said the courses are welcomed by teachers as no grading is required – Banzai software automatically grades the courses – and because they act as a supplement to already established curriculum. Teachers can decide how and when to implement the courses.

“The world we live in today is very competitive. And it can also be predatorial. An 18-year-old can go out and acquire a lot of student loan debt; and it’s really easy to apply for a credit card,” said Fitts. “Banzai allows students to experience real financial pitfalls through the course without taking on real risks.”

Banzai also offer courses on digital citizenship, which cover internet safety and cyber bullying.

“We feel that there are many areas that influence a student’s ability to be prepared for adult life, especially with the rise of the internet,” said Fitts. “Because of COVID and the increase in remote learning, we saw a need for courses on internet safety.”

Sunrise Banks is a Banzai sponsor and has helped to provide courses to 24 schools in Hennepin and Ramsey County.

“I learned that It can be hard to gauge how much to put in which budget if you don't know what is coming up. I also learned that as long as you have enough money to pay it off a credit card is a good option,” said one student who’s gone through Banzai courses.

Banzai has more than 800 sponsors across the country. Find out how to become a sponsor here. For more information, visit Banzai’s website.

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