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Computer Program Teaches Teens Finances

Melissa Jenco, Chicago Tribune

Computer Program Teaches Teens FinancesIllinois teens may soon learn about financial concepts like mortgages, credit cards and tax returns through an interactive computer program designed to feel like a video game.

A foundation and a technology company are partnering to cover the costs of providing the financial literacy program to public high schools and recently launched the initiative at Metea Valley High School in Aurora.

"What you're doing today is you're getting a huge jump on everybody else, and it's important that you really focus on this because if you make the right decision on this stuff now, it's going to put you in an incredible place down the road," Tom Davidson, CEO of education technology company EverFi, told students.

Sean Fitzgerald, EverFi executive vice president overseeing the Midwest, cited a study that found that 84 percent of college undergraduates wish they had received more financial education in high school.

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The program combines elements of gaming, social networking and animation to take students through financial scenarios at their own pace and quizzes them after each module. Davidson said the characters in the program use humor and sarcasm to appeal to teenagers.

"We need to build things that are really innovative, they're gaming-oriented because this stuff is ungodly boring, and do it in a way that captures their imagination," Davidson said.

Indian Prairie School District 204 Superintendent Kathy Birkett saw the program at a conference and said she thought students would enjoy it. The district serves portions of Aurora, Naperville, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.

"It's exciting to see such an innovative approach to teaching financial literacy," Birkett said in a news release. "Our students will be better equipped to manage their own personal finances as a result."

Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner of the Rauner Family Foundation said the need to understand financial concepts like mortgages, interest rates and debt became even more apparent during the recession, spurring his foundation to take up the cause.

"If you look at what's going on the last four years, understanding those things well and understanding the risks and opportunities they present, that's critically important for all students, not just a few students," Rauner said. "And historically only a few students have really been taught much of this, so I think getting this taught for everyone is really critical for our economy going forward."

Metea senior Kandace Huebner said she liked the interactivity and the lessons "will enable us to make educated decisions and prevent us from making mistakes that will set us back financially."

Senior Megan Geldernick agreed.

"It's definitely something I'll be able to apply in the future," she said. "So it's a good resource to learn now."

Rauner recently retired from a Chicago-based private equity firm and opened a venture capital firm. He also is a potential candidate for governor.

mjenco@tribune.com ___