Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Steering Students

As they came off spring break, Sara Carroll's students at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo eased back into their schoolwork by playing a board game.

But the game -- created by a Tampa company that trains employees at Fortune 1000 corporations -- had a point. "Strive to Drive" takes students through the process of buying, insuring and owning a car, teaching essential money-management skills in the process.

The game requires students to make choices and answer questions based on the information on the game board. After choosing a job and learning to balance a checkbook, they decide what kind of car to buy and how to pay for it. Should they try to save money by buying the used Mustang that's cheaper but may need repairs? Should they pay cash or take out a loan at the bank or from Uncle Fred?

Each decision comes with consequences -- as some of Carroll's students found out when the car they bought broke down and they didn't have the money to fix it.

The game was created in a collaboration between two groups: The non-profit Florida Council on Economic Education, a business-supported statewide organization that promotes economic learning among precollege-age students; and Paradigm Learning, a consulting firm that has developed a number of interactive games to teach employees how to operate more efficiently.

Paradigm CEO Ray Green, President Cathy Rezak and FCEE President Don Fell developed the concept about five years ago to give students a head start in developing basic money-management skills. Fell says to get the students interested, they decided to build the game around a goal they knew would appeal to the students -- owning a car.

Using the game approach, they believed, meant "kids will be kicking and screaming to learn to balance checkbooks," says Green.

Paradigm spent $130,000 to build the game and then gave the rights to FCEE. FCEE (fcee.org) distributes the game free to teachers statewide at a cost of about $40,000 a year, with support from SunTrust Bank.

More than 80,000 Florida middle and high school students will play the game this year, almost twice as many as last year. "One of our best indicators of the product's value is the repeat rate," says Fell. About 80% of the teachers who used it last year have asked for it again this year.

Other states have taken notice as well: Pennsylvania officials will send out a version to classrooms this year, and two or three other states are considering doing the same, says Fell. Paradigm modified the Florida version for free for Pennsylvania and will do the same for the other states.

"Cathy and I have always been concerned with giving back to the community," says Green.