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Learning financial literacy in a 'piggy bank adventure' at Harper's Choice

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Learning how to manage money doesn’t have to be a tedious, boring process, students at Harper’s Choice Middle School are realizing — with the help of a computer game, financial literacy can actually be fun.

“They pick a character, pick a goal, roll the dice and play along,” said April Jackson, a reading paraeducator at the Columbia school.

The game Jackson is talking about is ‘The Great Piggy Bank Adventure,” and about 10 Harper’s Choice students were embroiled in the computer game after school last week. The game is offered through Junior Achievement of Central Maryland in partnership with Walt Disney Imagineering and the T. Rowe Price Foundation.

“This is a program that helps introduce our students to financial literacy, and it capture their attention through the game,” said Valerie Stuart Hughes, data specialist at Harper’s Choice.

In the game, students have to pick a goal — short-term at first, then long-term as the levels progress. They roll the dice and answer situational questions in order to demonstrate wise financial planning. If they make good financial decisions, they receive coins to save up toward their goal.

Jillian Williams, an eighth-grade student, “saving” up for a television and game console, was asked what would be a poor financial decision for an imaginary elementary school. If Schoolville Elementary had money to spend from a bake sale, what would be a wasteful way to spend it: a science field trip for the entire school, new desks to replace broken ones, or mp3 players for all sixth-graders?

“I’m learning how not to be a wasteful spender, how to save money,” Jillian said.

The students are also learning about things like inflation — a goal that may have cost a certain amount initially will increase in value as the game progresses, making the goal harder to reach — along with interest rates and diversifying investments.

Next to Jillian, eighth-graders Ra’Shea Nias and Madison Salley played the game together, “saving” up for a vacation. Whenever they answer a question correctly, they can put their money in a gold piggy bank, a blue piggy bank or a red piggy bank. Ra’Shea and Madison keep putting their money in the gold bank, not know what the others are for. That’s when Kathleen Keck, an eighth-grade English teacher, steps in.

Keck explains that the gold piggy bank yields a small but constant return on investment, somewhere between one and three percent, while the blue bank yields a higher return, but is more risky. The red piggy bank is the most risky of all, but it’s still important to spread savings among the three, Keck said, so the students don’t have all their money in one place (which runs a greater risk of bankruptcy).

Ra’Shea and Madison steer clear of the red piggy bank, but miss out on more money when the bank yields a 155 percent increase.

“I think this is helping for later on in life,” Madison said. “Like, you should only buy what you need, not what you want, unless you can save up for it and not go over your budget.”

The Harper’s Choice students playing “The Great Piggy Bank Adventure” are part of the after-school BRIDGES Over Howard County program, which offers academic enrichment and character education for struggling students. Through four 21st Century Community Learning Center grants from the federal government, the Howard County Public School System offers BRIDGES at 19 schools in the county.

LaRee Siddiqui, director of education and outreach for JA, said “The Great Piggy Bank Adventure” was piloted with the BRIDGES program at Cradlerock Elementary School last year, and this year is being offered at all 19 BRIDGES schools.

“They’re learning as they play,” Hughes said. “They’re learning life skills. We’re preparing our students for their future and learning finances is a crucial life skill.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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