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Sikeston student wins $20,000 scholarship from H&R Block Budget Challenge

Posted Date: 05/19/2017

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A Sikeston High School junior’s exceptional budgeting skills have netted him a $20,000 scholarship.
Bryce Bays placed second out of over 100,000 students from across the country, and he was one of five students to receive a $20,000 scholarship.
Bays was presented with an oversized check from the H&R Block Budget Challenge Thursday during an assembly in the high school cafeteria.
Now in its third year, the H&R Block Budget Challenge is an online game that works by replicating an adult’s financial life, requiring students to pay bills, manage expenses, save money, invest in retirement and pay taxes as if they were recent college graduates. Participating students from across the nation also compete for college scholarships through the program.
“I’m so proud of Bryce and all the students who played this year,” said Christine Spurlock, SHS personal finance teacher. “They listen well and really take it seriously; so, I’m hopeful they’ve really learned how to manage their money in the coming years.”
Sikeston High School has had three $20,000 scholarship winners in the past two years. Senior Eric Gordon won the scholarship in spring 2015 and Kylie Hutcheson in the fall 2015, Spurlock said.
“We’ve probably had at least five students who were one place away from winning it,” she said.
The H&R Block Budget Challenge works by students participate in an online simulation, where they are given a job and a salary and have to make real-world decisions like if they’ll have a roommate or live alone, what insurance will they buy and what do they want to save for retirememnt.
Through the free online game, students pay bills, manage expenses, save money, invest in retirement and pay taxes as if they were recent college graduates.
The challenge is completed in real-time with each day in the simulation equaling one day in real life.
“We use a budget spreadsheet, and I think that’s how our kids do so well,” Spurlock said.
Bays, who is the son of Steve and Laura Bays, said he didn’t tell his mom he was in the running for the scholarship until he knew for sure he’d won. Then he delivered the news the what most children today would: he sent her a text.
“She went crazy she was so excited,” Bays recalled about the his mother. “She came to my dad and told him and he was excited.”
He said placing second out of over 100,000 students was awesome.
“I had a lot of help from my teacher, Ms. Spurlock. I couldn’t have done it without her. Everyday we came in and that’s what we did — our budget challenge,” Bays said.
Through the competition, Bays said he learned how to pay bills on time and manage finances for retirement based on 401K.
Bays said he knows the scholarship will make a significant impact on his future. He wants to be an engineer but isn’t sure yet where he wants to attend college.
The program was created to help address the need for more financial education in the classroom. Only 7 percent of high school students are financially literate, according to George Washington University School of Business. U.S. Financial Capability said fewer than 30 percent of adults report being offered financial education at school or college.
The state of Missouri currently requires a course in financial education to graduate high school so all SHS students take one semester of personal finance to to satisfy that requirement.
SHS instructors Will Holifield and Spurlock added this online simulation to the course to make learning about money management more enjoyable and engaging for their students.
Spurlock’s seventh hour class came in at No. 1 out of over 1,400 teams across the country. All of her classes were in the top 25, and all of Holifield’s classes were in the top 50 nationwide, she said.
Local H&R Block representative Karen Martin of Sikeston was on hand to present Bays with an oversized check Thursday.
“I’m just so proud,” Martin said. “The teachers continue to bring things home for Sikeston, and it’s just a very proud moment.”