Students take on economic challenge
Ken McLemore, Hope Public Schools

HOPE – The bills come due like clockwork, and whatever can go wrong will in Kathy Knight’s economics class at Hope High School; it’s part of a computer-based real-world simulation offering a total of $120,000 in scholarships for winning students.

There are currently 18,653 high school students nationwide participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge contest simulation, Knight said.

“We have had as high as six at the top of the leaderboard on a given day,” she said. “It does inspire some competition.”

And, Knight’s students are learning a great deal about how to handle money and personal finances.

“The fifteenth of the month this month is a bank holiday,” she said. “That means they have got to schedule their bills around that; it’s a real life situation.”

The simulation calls for all students to participate in the same scenario involving responsibilities to pay bills, saving money in a 401(k) account, managing credit cards, answering quizzes and surveys based upon the simulation; and taking care of their own problems involving the simulation through the game’s “help desk.”

Individual choices for budget management categories are flexible, but scoring is based upon how each student manages those choices against the scenario’s responsibilities.

“I’ve had kids take the class ask about stocks and bonds; but, I’ve said, ‘No, you’ve got to learn to pay your bills, first’,” Knight said.

The quiz element in the five areas of responsibility helps Knight emphasize certain principles of economics.

“I have to teach what is on the quizzes, but I don’t know what will be on each quiz,” Knight said. I have to teach a regular class.”

Individual “leaderboard” scores are posted daily across the nation; but, scores may be adversely affected by penalty points and other penalties for poor financial decisions based upon the variables built into the simulation. Students must stay consistently engaged in the simulation to continue to qualify for prize status, according to the game rules.

Knight currently has 80 students in five classes participating in the simulation contest. She said the scenarios require students to consider such things as how to fit homeowner or renter insurance into a budget, and how to prioritize needs.

“It’s very, very eye-opening,” Knight said.

She said she follows the variables in the simulation through a teacher account.

“But, I’m not able to use that to help them,” Knight said.

Students are allowed a limited amount of collaboration, such as tutoring each other about how to use a spreadsheet; but, they cannot collaborate on cash flow spreadsheets used in the simulation.

The contest ends April 7, Knight said.