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Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Classroom Grant Winner: Mr. Deane Western

How do you get your students excited about personal finance? After two years of participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, Deane Western, a 10th grade economics and government teacher at the State College of Florida Collegiate School, knows how.

Two of Western’s students won $20,000 college scholarships this year through their hard work. We spoke with him to learn more about how his students enjoyed the simulation and if he’d recommend the program to other teachers.

What was your motivation behind getting your class involved in the H&R Block Budget Challenge?

I’ve got basically one semester to teach students both economics and personal finance and the simulation is perfect for teaching it. The curriculum spends time talking about insurance and credit cards, and all the pieces just lined up perfectly for me to teach personal finance. It brings the knowledge to my students in a tangible way.

Do you see a need for teaching financial literacy at your school?

Yes. It’s huge, particularly for our students, because they’re in 10th grade and it’s the perfect window to teach them those skills. A lot of kids are starting jobs and are on a college campus where they simultaneously earn their associates degree and high school diploma. Right now is when they’re making the transition to working, driving and being on a college campus. When experiencing that type of independence, having personal finance knowledge is crucial.

How did you use the curriculum in your classroom?

This year, I broke it down and spent a day each week doing nothing else but talking about the elements relating to the Budget Challenge. At the beginning of each class, we’d talk about what’s going on in the simulation. The students had a lot of fun with it.

How did you motivate your students to participate?

I told them that if they learned the information, it would pay off in immeasurable ways, both financially and in other ways. You win so much more than $20,000 by participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge. You learn the skills and education you need.

Have you noticed any feedback from the students’ parents?

Absolutely. One opportunity I give my students is to actually go home and interview their parents about their financial mistakes. I’m hoping that conversation is enlightening for both of them. I read on the H&R Block Dollars & Sense website how many teens learn financial skills from their parents, and I hope there’s an opportunity to learn from those mistakes.

What was the most rewarding part of having your students participate?

Some students were ranked as high as No. 10 at one point in time before they were late on a bill or something, but that was really exciting. This year I had two students who finished at No. 14 and No. 16 and it was just so exciting at the end there to see them perform so well.

How has winning college scholarships changed your students’ plans for continuing their education?

Given the collegiate school we’re at, the students have an opportunity to get their associates degree basically tuition-free; there’s another school that makes an arrangement to pick up the expense for their next two years of education. But after winning, one student said, “No, this makes a difference. I can go to a better ranked undergraduate school, which will then help me complete my bachelor’s degree.” That will then in turn help them get into a better medical school.

Do you think there needs to be some required financial education classes in school across the country?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I think it’s ridiculous that students have to take Algebra I and II, Geometry…a lot of math courses all throughout school, and I only have half a year to teach them personal finance. The number of careers that use geometry is so low, but 100 percent of people need to understand personal finance.

Would you recommend the simulation to other teachers?

One hundred percent yes. Other teachers at my school totally want their students to learn this stuff, too!

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Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Scholarship Winner: Angela Lin

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! That’s the motto Clements High School senior Angela Lin lives by. She participated in the H&R Block Budget Challenge last year and was determined to win this year. All of her hard work paid off, and she earned a $20,000 college scholarship and learned some useful financial skills along the way. We chatted with Angela to find out what she did differently this time around that made her so successful as well as what she thought of the program overall.

How did you feel when you started the Budget Challenge this year versus when you started your first year?

I was like “I understand this!” In the beginning of the first year I participated, I didn’t take it as seriously because I had no knowledge of personal finance. But halfway through the first year, I saw my rank go up, so I took it more seriously.

Do you see a need for financial literacy education among teens your age?

Oh my gosh, yes; that is a 1,000% yes. My high school is pretty diverse, and we have people that come from all incomes, but the amount of people who spend their money like there’s no tomorrow is shocking.

With so many people in debt in America, I believe financial literacy is really important to teach people how to make their money work for them. With the help of financial literacy and planning your budget, you’re able to make sure you never go in debt and don’t buy things with money you don’t have.

Did you talk about money with your parents when you were younger?

The first time I got exposed to the financial world was through my father when I was in elementary or middle school. My parents came from Taiwan and my mother’s English is not that good and sometimes needs help paying the bills and understanding what things mean.

My dad is currently a professor overseas and my brother got into stocks recently. My oldest brother, who is in business school, will also sometimes teach me about money. But what really got me motivated in business and finances is my teacher Mr. Eppes. He made it sound so fun.

What was your reaction when you found out you won a scholarship?

My heart rate shot up 120%. I couldn’t believe it! I kept refreshing the webpage.

What was your parents’ reaction when you told them you won a scholarship?

My mom squealed she was so excited! It’s taking away some of the burden on her, being the only parent I have here in the U.S. and with two other kids in college. She’s really grateful for this program. But even if you don’t win in this simulation, you win in real life by learning important financial skills.

How has this scholarship changed your post-graduation plans?

I’ve always planned on going to college, but this scholarship will help me put less emphasis on trying to work a 40-hour job during college to pay for my tuition. It’ll minimize the amount of student debt so I can utilize my time better.

What advice would you give to other students participating in the Budget Challenge?

You have to have self-confidence and motivate yourself because if you don’t have those, you’re not going to push yourself to try to succeed.

Do you think you learned financial skills in the Budget Challenge that will help you in the real world?

Yes. Another 1,000% yes. The Budget Challenge actually pushed me to research and calculate and start a budget. It made me get into the habit of making a budget in terms of planning, bills and shopping. It’s a tremendous help. I’ve learned more in the last two years that I participated in the Budget Challenge than I have in my whole life.

Learning financial literacy is fun with the H&R Block Budget Challenge. Registration for 2016-2017 simulations opens in March. For more information on how to get involved, visit HRBDS.org.

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Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Scholarship Winner: Matt Tetreau

Hard work and long-term planning pay off when taking the H&R Block Budget Challenge. Don’t believe us? Just ask Matt Tetreau from St. Clair High School in Michigan who won a $20,000 scholarship. We spoke with him to learn more about how he was so successful!

Growing up, did you see a need for financial literacy and education among your classmates?

I really think that it’s valuable information, especially since next year many of us will have student loans. Many kids my age don’t really know too much about student loans or living on their own. That’s what inspired me to take Mrs. Volz’s class where we took the Budget Challenge.

Where did your previous financial education come from? Did you take any classes prior to Mrs. Volz’s?

No I didn’t. I didn’t ever really talk to my parents about money either. I’m not much of a spender. During the simulation, I learned almost everything I know though through the class or on my own.

Do you think that the simulation taught you the real world money skills that you need to be successful?

Absolutely. I feel like I can budget on my own now, whereas before I don’t know if I would have been able to manage.

What do you think was the recipe to your success that helped you win the scholarship?

I checked the Budget Challenge every day and made sure that my budget was balanced. I tried a bunch of different strategies and tried to find the strategy that would save me the most money on my budget.

How often did you tweak your budget throughout the simulation?

In the beginning, I planned it all out by how I thought it’d work out — but that didn’t work because unexpected things came up in the Budget Challenge where I had to make refinements. We had one unexpected event to deal with, and our credit card expenses were pretty unpredictable at times. We didn’t know how much we’d get charged for the event, so we had to account for that as well.

Did you work together with your classmates through the simulation?

I actually did work with some. It was really valuable working together and bouncing ideas off each other. Some of my classmates proposed strategies that I didn’t initially think of — and I came up with ways to play that helped others. I think that sharing of ideas among a few of my classmates was part of my success.

What did your parents think when you told them you were taking the H&R Block Budget Challenge?

I told them about the simulation, and they were pretty into it as well. They were asking me what was going on and how I was doing.

How has winning this scholarship changed your post-graduation plans?

I always planned on going to college, but I didn’t plan how I would pay for it. So the scholarship definitely helps.

Where do you plan on going to college and using your scholarship?

I plan on going to Michigan or Grand Valley State and studying computer science. I want to probably be a computer programmer or similar type of job.

Would you recommend this simulation to other students? Why?

Going into this, I didn’t know much at all about budgeting. I learned so much information that will help me throughout my life. I honestly think that every high school student should participate in something like that or at least take a class related to it.

Learning financial literacy is fun with the H&R Block Budget Challenge. To find out more about how your teenagers or students can learn real-world money management skills without the real-world consequences, encourage teachers to register here for the next H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation.

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What Teachers Are Saying About the H&R Block Budget Challenge

We’ve wrapped up another semester of the H&R Block Budget Challenge and ushered in another batch of high schoolers who have mastered the art of personal finance. See what our winning teachers from last semester have to say about their classes’ participation and get involved in the next simulation by registering here!

  • The class stated they saw a real life connection to understanding the material. They have a competitive nature, and as they saw their ranking improve it drove them to work harder. Thank you again for this opportunity; it really does help students apply key concepts! –Erica Pavlik, Nequa Valley High School
  • My accounting class enjoyed learning how to manage their money in a “real-world” atmosphere, and they now feel better about doing it on their own. Also, they enjoyed the competition aspect of the H&R Block Budget Challenge, especially, when one of the students placed 24th! He was so heartbroken at missing a scholarship by two places, so we are going to have a huge pizza party! Thank you H&R Block for sponsoring and giving these students this great opportunity! – Chris Spurlock, Sikeston Career & Technology Center
  • I teach an Intro to Business class at a small school in rural Indiana. The students are very competitive and have a great sense of community. They loved seeing their team name on the leaderboard and their national ranking. I believe their success came from planning and checking and tweaking their spreadsheets throughout the challenge. – Cheri Jesionowski, Adams Central High School
  • Thank you for allowing my accounting students to participate in the Budget Challenge! This has been a super exciting event where learning has truly evolved. Personal finance knowledge is critical for young people to know, and there never seems to be enough time for students to fit these courses in their schedule. The students in this class were certainly happy they were a part of this. Attendance and class engagement were at an all-time high during the simulation. We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. – Kim Rider, Kinder High School
  • I am a huge fan of what you are doing. I think participating in the Budget Challenge gives students the opportunity to learn money management techniques and deal with a variety of issues in a safe environment. – Jennifer Jordan, Madeira High School
  • The first thing the students wanted to do each day of class was log on to the Budget Challenge to check their rank and the class rank and then pay any bills due. It was a great experience. – Laura DePue, Fredonia Central High School
  • Budgeting is best learned through doing it. Creating a budget and paying bills is a difficult task to learn and can have detrimental consequences. I used to and will continue to use the simulation because it teaches students lessons in a way that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. – Sherry Brown, Guntersville High School
  • I loved the real world aspects of the simulation. It just can’t get better than having real invoices, real emails, real ‘accidents’, real penalties. – Neva Allen, Knob Noster High School
  • I REALLY enjoyed the simulation. I liked the quick email responses, the curve balls, the virtual reality of the simulation. – Lenny Briones, Michael E. DeBakey High School

Learning financial literacy is fun with the H&R Block Budget Challenge. To find out more about how your teenagers or students can learn real-world money management skills without the real-world consequences, encourage teachers to register here for the next H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation.

(Photo provided by Amanda Volz)

Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Classroom Grant Winner: Ms. Amanda Volz

St. Clair High School teacher Amanda Volz knows a thing or two about what it takes to lead a class of money management masters. Not only did her class last year include H&R Block Budget Challenge grand prize winner Sean Lawrence, six of her students this year won scholarships, along with a $5,000 classroom grant. We caught up with her to find out how she keeps her students motivated in the program and why she’d recommend it to others.

You’ve had two straight years with high-performing students involved in the program. What’s your secret?

I’m fortunate enough to teach the inclusive personal finance class. My financial management class is year-long and we cover all the personal finance topics, so we talk about budgeting, credit, how to deal with mortgages, etc. So, this is content that I purposely tie to the simulation. My students are graded on the quizzes they take, and their participation is recorded so that’s definitely a positive for me that I’m teaching those exact concepts in my class.

How did you include the simulation in your curriculum?

This year I taught it as more of project-based learning format. Last year I did it as more of a culminating project using the concepts I teach. The Budget Challenge was a great support to the curriculum I already teach, and students were learning as they improved. My students were constantly asking questions as they progressed.

What were your students’ reactions when you told them they’d be participating in the program?

They were very into it and started making their budgets and talking to their parents. They knew at the beginning they had to make some really good decisions to hopefully win the scholarship. I know that 100 percent of my class found value in the simulation even though some of them may not have been into it as much as the other students in the Budget Challenge.

How did you motivate your students to participate in the simulation?

All of my kids that won scholarships this year were very engaged, so they didn’t get lazy at any point and used the budgeting tools that were provided by the Budget Challenge. They were strategic and worked together, bouncing ideas off each other, and reminding each other of certain things. I think having a grand-prize winner last year was a huge motivator for my classes this year to see that winning is a possibility for them. One of the ways I introduced the simulation this year was by showing footage of last year and how Sean Lawrence went on to win and I think that was really effective.

Did you get any feedback from your students’ parents?

I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from parents about how their son or daughter was really talking about these concepts at home with them. I think the Budget Challenge was increasing a lot of dialogue at home and a lot of good comments from parents about making personal finance fun. This program is game-based so it makes the process fun.

What did you find most rewarding when including the H&R Block Budget Challenge in your teaching?
I really like that students are taking exactly what they’re learning in my class and the simulation and applying it to their daily lives. I think that’s a huge reward. There’s never any question of “When am I ever going to use this?”

What’s your stance on financial courses in high schools? Do you think they should be required?

Most definitely. I think finance is a major part of everyone’s lives. These are household skills that help our economy. One of the most rewarding parts of teaching this is how kids see the value in all this information that they’re learning.

Would you recommend this program to other teachers?

I definitely recommend the program. I have not found another program that better simulates the money management concept. I think it’s great that everything happens in real time, too. It’s very hands-on and relevant. The game-based aspect of it makes it fun for the students and the scholarship money — that’s a life-changing amount of money for someone to win. It’s also available at no cost to teachers.

Learning financial literacy is fun with the H&R Block Budget Challenge. To find out more about how your teenagers or students can learn real-world money management skills without the real-world consequences, encourage teachers to register here for the next H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation.

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What Did South Lyon High School Students Learn from the H&R Block Budget Challenge?

Students from two classes at South Lyon High School in South Lyon, Mich., are part of the newest batch of money management masters thanks to the H&R Block Budget Challenge. Here are the top 5 things that each team learned by participating in the simulation!

Top 5 Things that the Lucid Lyons Team learned:

  1. That you must be very organized and have a strategy in order to properly manage your money. –Justin
  2. How important it is to keep extra money for unexpected expenditures and how big of an impact they can have on your budget. -Maia
  3. How to manage a budget in order to make sure I have enough money for bills and other expenses. –Kayla
  4. That it is very important to stay up-to-date on all of your bills because if you don’t, it’s very difficult to catch up. –Tony
  5. That I will probably go into debt when I’m older, and I need to focus on knowing when to pay my bills. –Aidan

Top 5 Things that the Liberated Lyons Team learned:

  1. Preparing me for the real world. I now know how to pay bills properly. -Charlie
  2. How important it is to manage my money, so I’ll be prepared for the real world. –Karissa
  3. When I get older, I will try not to have as much frivolous spending, like going out to dinner three times a week. –Spencer
  4. The importance of saving early for retirement. It’s never too early to start. –Brooke
  5. Creating and balancing my very own budget from money I earn. –Steve

 Learning financial literacy is fun with the H&R Block Budget Challenge. To find out more about how your teenagers or students can learn real-world money management skills without the real-world consequences, encourage teachers to register here for the next H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation.

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5 Reasons You Should Enroll Your Class in the H&R Block Budget Challenge

A new year has begun and the opportunity to register your class for the second semester of H&R Block Budget Challenge simulations is quickly coming to an end!

In case you haven’t already been made aware of all the useful benefits of the simulation, here are five reasons why you shouldn’t wait one more minute to register. 

  1. Flex those financial muscles

We recently conducted a survey among more than 1,000 13-17 year-old American teenagers and discovered that close to half of them said they aren’t “financially fit.” That’s a lot of teens insecure about their ability to manage their money and save for the future. You can help them build a solid foundation that will benefit them well into the future — and that is what teaching is all about.

  1. All hands on deck

The Budget Challenge is a successful teaching model because of its hands-on approach. Every one of your students will learn practical lessons on money management through the real-world simulation in the game. This goes way beyond pulling lessons from textbooks — this is the real deal.

  1. Real skills, not real consequences

Allowing teens to make mistakes takes the pressure off of trying to be perfect. Even though the Budget Challenge mimics the real world, it’s still only a simulation. That means there are no real penalties for financial blunders — only lessons learned.

  1. A fun change of pace

A lesson plan that deviates from the norm will usually get students interested. A lesson plan that involves competition with other students and classrooms will almost certainly get students excited about participating. A motivated student means happy teachers.

  1. Scholarships and grants

Above all else, the H&R Block Budget Challenge offers a total of $3 million in scholarships and grants: that breaks down to 60 opportunities for classroom grants up to $5,000; 132 opportunities for student scholarships of $20,000; and a grand prize scholarship of $100,000. How’s that for incentive? 

Learning financial literacy is fun with the H&R Block Budget Challenge. To find out more about how your teenagers or students can learn real-world money management skills without the real-world consequences, encourage teachers to register here for the next H&R Block Budget Challenge simulation.

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Meet H&R Block Budget Challenge Scholarship Winner: Emma Fancher

Emma Fancher, a current freshman at the University of North Alabama, was one of 11 Guntersville High School students last year to win a $20,000 scholarship through the H&R Block Budget Challenge. We caught up with Emma to see how she’s progressing as a college student and to reflect on the impact Budget Challenge simulation had on her life and education.

What have you been up to since winning a scholarship through the H&R Block Budget Challenge?

I’m majoring in secondary math education and hope to come back and be a high school math teacher one day. Growing up in a household with a single mother and a sister with special needs, I was told from a young age it would be up to me to pay my way through college. So the $20,000 scholarship I won from the H&R Block Budget Challenge has ensured that I can go to my first four years of the University of North Alabama and come out debt free, which is something I’m so grateful for.

Did you see a need for financial literacy education in Guntersville, Ala., where you grew up?

Absolutely. Up until I took the H&R Block Budget Challenge I had had no type of financial class in high school at all, and I had thought it was really lacking because I knew once I got out to the real world I would be expected to pay bills and manage my income. Until then I had no clue how to do that.

You mentioned you didn’t have any prior financial literacy education. Where would you say you learned about it from?

Most of what I knew about financial literacy came from my mom. I did have a part-time job in high school, and I could see when my paycheck came at the end of the month that there was a huge chunk of money being taken out, but I had no clue where it was going. Budget Challenge showed me that the money is being invested into taxes and put towards my retirement. And it taught me about the different types of bills you could get and interest rates that come with credit cards, which was all stuff that was new to me.

And what was your reaction when you found out you’d be playing the H&R Block Budget Challenge? What did you think you were going to learn?

Ms. Brown actually pulled me out of class the day she got the email about it and was showing it to me and telling me how excited she was about it and asking if I thought my classmates and I would really get into it. And I told her from day one that I was geared up and ready to do it. I wanted to win that $20,000 scholarship. When she told the rest of the class, they were so ecstatic and I think once we got into the challenge and we saw how well we were doing and saw that a lot of us were going to up with scholarships it just drove us even more.

What would you say is the most important thing you learned from the Budget Challenge overall?

The most important thing I learned is to plan ahead. I saw the importance of making a budget and sticking to it. I saw how much that affected me in the long run. Without a budget I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with all my bills and make sure they’re paid on time. And to make sure I have the money to invest extra in my 401(k).

As a college freshman now, do you think that the knowledge you’ve gotten from the Budget Challenge put you in a good spot and got you ready for the real world?

It definitely has. I feel like I might be a little ahead of other people my age just knowing the importance of making the budget and sticking to it and just having learned about different types of interest rates and different types of bills. Like the higher your car insurance deductible the lower your premium. I didn’t know any of that before the Budget Challenge.

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Introducing The H&R Block Budget Challenge to Your Classroom

Motivating students to learn is easy, right? Maybe in a perfect world. Even fun and engaging lessons need effective implementation plans to ensure students are focused and ready to learn.

Follow these suggestions when introducing the H&R Block Budget Challenge into your classroom so your students will learn valuable financial literacy skills they can use their entire lives.

The rewards are tangible.

H&R Block awards a total of $3 million in grants and scholarships to students and classrooms each year. There are 60 opportunities for classroom grants of up to $5,000, 132 opportunities for student scholarships of $20,000 and a grand prize scholarship of $100,000. That’s some real cash! So on top of working hard to earn a good grade in class, students are working for a grade and money in the H&R Block Budget Challenge — money that will help pay for college. That should open students’ eyes and get them excited to participate in the Budget Challenge. But if the ultimate goal doesn’t motivate all your students, there are other ways to get them involved.

It’s game time!

Understandably, students tire from period after period of taking notes while listening to teachers lecture, but oddly enough don’t get exhausted from playing games on their phone. The H&R Block Budget Challenge breaks from the typical class format and brings students together in a competitive atmosphere. Tell them they’ll be playing an interactive game and you’re sure to get more students paying attention. Over time, the Budget Challenge will stand out in a student’s day as something different that they look forward to each time they have class.

Who’s number one? We are!

A competitive spirit and sense of pride are natural parts of a high-school student’s identity. Harness that energy and use it motivate them. Let them know that each student will play and compete against others within their own class, and against other classes nationwide! Since students have the ability to track rankings in real-time online, you’ll find students working hard to be the best — and learning in the process! 

Financial literacy is for everyone, not just the valedictorian

Some students can become discouraged with their academic performance and get frustrated with the abstract nature of some lessons. Financial literacy is very applicable to the real-world and can resonant with all students. Relate it to everyday life and impress upon your students that financial literacy can’t be outsmarted. You’ll find it levels the playing field between the top-performing students and those who struggle with traditional lessons. This will motivate all students to be the best they can be.

At the end of the day, teenagers want to be treated like adults. What better way to do that then by teaching real-world personal finance skills with the H&R Block Budget Challenge? It gives them a sense of what it takes to be an adult in the real world, allowing them to make financial mistakes – that they’ll learn from – without any serious actual financial consequences.