Paying bills, keeping up on car insurance and understanding a 401(k) are things you expect adults to do. Cooper Hart has it all mastered — and he’s only 14. As a result of his financial skills, he’s getting a financial windfall: a $20,000 scholarship for college.
Cooper, a freshman at Gardner-Edgerton High School, got one of the highest scores nationwide on the fall H&R Block Budget Challenge. It’s a program that simulates what it’s like to have to manage your money with real-world expenses.
“I inputted all of my expenses into a graph and spreadsheet, and I checked the website every day at least once,” Cooper said. “I just really focused on it. I like to know that I can be able to budget myself easier. … It made me realize how much I would need to be prepared for life out of high school.”
Cooper, who lives in Gardner, is a member of the business club DECA at his school and hopes to study aerospace engineering when he gets to college.
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“I’m just really grateful I had the opportunity to go through with this, because I know not that many people have a chance to win $20,000,” he said.
This is the second time a student at Gardner-Edgerton has won a $20,000 scholarship in the competition. Last year’s winner was Emily Moore, now a sophomore at the school. Shulammite Lim of Olathe North High School also won a scholarship.
H&R Block awards $20,000 scholarships to 22 students for each of its six simulations and a $100,000 scholarship to one student. The 10 classrooms with the highest totals also get up to $5,000 in grant money.
Pam Gove, the gifted facilitator at the school, said this is her second year overseeing the program. Her classroom received such a grant last year.
Students have the opportunity to participate in the nine-week program once each semester.
Gove said she learned about the competition from an H&R Block Twitter account geared toward educators.
“It’s so valuable, because it’s real life, and they walk away with the tools and skills so many students will not have,” she said. “My students will already know all about (W2 forms and loan payments). It just gives them an advanced knowledge so when they are in a situation, they can respond.”
In the fall semester, she had 16 out of her 50 students sign up to participate. Gove said it can be a time-consuming activity for students, since they have to stay on top of all the details.
She goes over the different options they have for each item, such as picking a bank loan or a credit loan for a car or going for higher premiums or deductibles for insurance. Ultimately, though, the students get to choose which option to try in their simulation.
“What I like about it … last year they had a simulation where there was a car wreck, and some of my students had not paid or their car insurance yet, and it knocked them way down on the (points) scale,” Gove said.
There are also weekly quizzes on topics such as types of loans. Those points also count toward their competition score.
“Cooper chose to have a studio apartment (for his fictional residence), while someone else may have had a one-bedroom or a roommate. They all had different choices, but they had to manage expenses and keep under their credit limits,” Gove said.
Gove recently was out sick from school for two weeks, which left students to stay caught up on their simulations without her guidance. Gove said that made her even more impressed that Cooper earned such a high point total.
Nationwide, 94 classrooms participated this semester, and Gardner-Edgerton placed 11th as a class.
“I have freshmen through seniors, and when my juniors went out to get their first job, they said, ‘We knew how to open a bank account and we knew what a 401(k) was,’ ” Gove said. “It’s the knowledge they’re gaining to be more aware of their expenses and where their money goes. When I first started (this semester), I said ‘gross pay’ and ‘net pay’, and they went, ‘What?’ ”
Beth Lipoff: firstname.lastname@example.org