At the Las Vegas Library, an eighth-grade boy gets the raw end of the deal. The tablet in his hands informs him that he’s a single dad with three daughters, a job with an annual salary of $20,000 and just a bus pass to get by. This is just one of the possible 24 budgeting scenarios students can find themselves in at Finance Park, an interactive simulation meant to teach kids between eighth and 12th grade how to make smart financial decisions in the future.
Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada, an organization that educates nearly 20,000 students a year on financial matters, runs Finance Park, which is open till December 16. Michelle Jackson, president and CEO of JA Southern Nevada, likens it to a Disneyland experience, offering the kids a scenario of what their financial lives might look like.
Teachers are trained on the park’s curriculum before the students’ visit. At the park, students receive a debit card with an account number, pin and account code. The account code generates a real-life scenario similar to a Jeopardy! answer, only now they’re asking, “Who is … this person and why do they have so much credit card debt?!” Inside Finance Park, which counts Capital One as one of its sponsors, there are kiosks that give the kids choices such as: What kind of insurance can they afford? Do they buy the unlimited data plan for their cell phone or put money aside for a rainy day? Do they purchase organic groceries for their family or go off-brand to save for a car?
After a day at the park, kids leave thinking differently. Jackson says parents thank her sometimes because their kids come home and start trying to save electricity. Often the reality of Finance Park penetrates even deeper. Jackson recalls one boy who entered the park with a heavy heart after losing his father and having to downsize in housing with his mother. “He was angry and upset,” she says. “After he went through the program, he went home and he apologized to his mom.” The reality of what it truly costs to be a single parent finally dawned on him.
Jackson emphasizes Finance Park works hard to reach kids in low-income and at-risk communities. This year, it’s partnering with 23 schools and anticipates that 4,000 kids will participate in the program. JA’s long-term goal is to build a permanent facility that’s open year-round and launch its national capstone program BizTown, which simulates an entire town with businesses.
On December 3, JA of Southern Nevada will kick off its annual Suite Holiday fundraiser, where participants can enjoy a night of specialty cocktails and gourmet bites in four different hotel suites around Las Vegas. For more information, visit jalasvegas.org.