A group of Lewis and Clark middle-schoolers got a serious lesson about finances Friday afternoon through a series of funny skits.
Two members of The National Theatre for Children presented the sketch-comedy, financial-literacy program titled “Pennies to Paychecks” three times Friday, once in the morning at Castle Rock Middle School and twice in the afternoon at Lewis and Clark.
The troupe toured 10 schools in eight cities over three days at the invitation of Montana Securities Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen.
Scott Duell and Grant Haase, members of the Minneapolis-based acting company, put on the 40-minute shows, each consisting of four skits focused on a different financial principle:
Paychecks come with deductions made for taxes.
There is a difference between saving and investing.
There is a difference between debit and credit cards.
Forming a saving habit is very important.
Duell and Haase played a series of characters in fun situations, donning wigs and costumes, to engage their young audience. Every skit included audience participation, which the students loved.
When asked for such things as the name of their favorite food (pizza), a wild animal (cheetah), a favorite movie star (Adam Sandler) or a hated household chore (washing dishes), the sixth- and seventh-graders at the second Lewis and Clark session called out their choices.
In one skit, a student named Gerius came on stage to take part in a silly reality show, vying against Duell, who competed as three different contestants. After each challenge, the audience, with thunderous applause, picked Gerius as the winner.
In another, a student named Fadre watched as Haase acted out a day in her life, playing a “taller scarier version” of Fadre, Duell said. He let her make choices about what she might eat or do.
“Should I have cold cereal or oatmeal?” he asked.
“Oatmeal,” she confirmed.
Asked her favorite musical group, she told him One Direction. By the end of the skit, Duell, as Fadre, spent all her money on a One Direction concert, using money she had saved.
“Start the savings habit now,” Duell told his audience. “Saving money is a habit that will stay with you the rest of your life.”
When it comes to debit vs. credit cards, Haase explained that a debit card will cause the bank to immediately deduct money from a person’s account.
“If you don’t have money in your account, the bank will assign fees and penalties,” he said.
With a credit card, he said, the bank pays for the item and bills the card holder at the end of the month. A person who can’t pay the entire amount at the end of the month will also have to pay interest.
“Credit cards are good, but you must use them responsibly,” Haase said. “It’s important to know that now so it will save you a lot of headaches later.”
As for saving versus investing, the duo explained that investing money can yield bigger profits, but it also comes with bigger risks. Saving money, on the other hand, is safer but a person doesn’t earn as much money.
Haase suggested the students ask themselves, “Is it worth it?”
Before the start of their performance, Duell said members of the National Theatre for Children travel the country during the school year to teach on such issues as financial responsibility, energy and water conservation.
The topics that the NTC explores through the skits may not necessarily be part of the curriculum.
“But we think they’re really important for kids to know,” Duell said.
As for all the interaction, it’s an important part of the shows, he said.
“It kind of helps them to own the show,” Duell said. “They’re engaging with us, so they’re taking more out of it than if they were sitting back the whole time just watching.”
Cindy Palmer, investment education coordinator for Lindeen’s office, said the commissioner of securities and insurance spends a lot of time fighting fraud and other crimes. People who have a better grasp of financial issues and understanding of the risks of investing can avoid a lot of those problems, she said.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Palmer said, adding that starting at an early age can help the students later on.