JEFFERSON — A financial literacy game developed by Jefferson Middle School teacher Erich Utrie and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Julie Woletz has just won “Game of the Year” honors from the national Institute for Financial Literacy.

Late last month, the national institute announced its Excellence in Financial Literacy Education Awards, with the locally developed “Don’t Be Jack: High School Edition” winning top honors.

Utrie and Woletz developed the game last year under the umbrella of Wisconsin Education Association Member Benefits.

Utrie, a Jefferson Middle School social studies teacher with a personal passion for economics, came to the WEA’s attention thanks to the numerous presentations he has made at state conferences on personal finance economics education.

Utrie also served on the teacher panel charged with updating the state’s educational standards on personal finance in recent years.

Meanwhile, Woletz had acquired similar prominence in the field, initially as a Cambridge business education teacher and later with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Currently, Woletz serves as a lecturer with the UW-W’s College of Business and Economics and special projects coordinator with the UW-W’s graduate business program.

The original game on which the new high school game was based, developed in 2012, was directed at educators themselves, serving as a fun tool to help educators understand the power of compound interest and the value of starting early to save for their future.

Educators responded so positively to the humorous, interactive financial literacy tool aimed at WEA members that soon teachers were requesting a student-centered version of the game to use in their classrooms to convey the same messages to a younger audience.

So when WEA Member Benefits was looking to develop a student version of the game, it was natural that the organization would reach out to Utrie and Woletz to assist in the process.

WEA Member Benefits personnel and experts in the field served as advisors during the process, with Utrie and Woletz taking a lead role in adapting the game for teens, based on Wisconsin’s Academic Standards or Personal Financial Literacy for the high school level.

Utrie said the group started working as a panel along with a WEA Member Benefits representative to go over the main concepts they wanted to convey.

Like a typical board game, the game has questions touching on a number of personal finance topics, spanning investing, saving, budgeting, insurance decisions and more.

Utrie and Woletz worked to address each topic in ways that aligned with the state standards as they were written at that time.

The group met as a committee for about six months, and Utrie and Woletz met as a duo several times during that half-year period, also communicating on a regular basis by email and phone.

“It was a great team effort, with a lot of collaboration,” Utrie said.

When the new student game was completed and approved, the area teachers then arranged for it to be “beta-tested” at Cambridge High School, where Woletz still had several contacts.

The test sessions ran during the summer, so the teachers had to recruit their own mock class, consisting of Utrie’s daughter Kate, who was then an incoming freshman at Jefferson High School; one of Woletz’s children, and some of their peers, ranging from incoming freshmen to seniors in high school.

The high school edition of the game has students work in teams to make decisions and to discuss and learn about different personal financial issues or situations they could encounter in life.

The student version of the game, “Don’t Be Jack: High School Edition” was released by WEA Member Benefits in 2019 and made available to teachers around the state.

In the next few months, Utrie and Woletz were able to give several presentations about the new game at state conferences.

Soon, it began to see use in classrooms across Wisconsin, with upticks in new usage every time the creators presented at an educational conference.

Utrie and Woletz were set to give a presentation at a national conference when the COVID-19 pandemic was announced and all such gatherings screeched to a halt.

After a few months of COVID-related delays, the newly developed game, “Don’t Be Jack: High School Edition” went into consideration this fall for the 2020 EIFLE awards.

Established in 2007, the EIFLE awards aim to promote the effective delivery of consumer financial products, services and education by acknowledging innovators in that field.

The awards are sponsored by the Institute for Financial Literacy, a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that promotes effective financial education and counseling.

As a national authority on adult financial education, the institute administers professional certifications and works to advance professionalism and effectiveness in the field and to recognize educational efforts in the field.

Utrie said he actually learned that the locally developed game had won “Game of the Year” honors through Twitter.

Soon enough, though, an email came through from WEA Member Benefits officials verifying that the game Utrie and Woletz had worked on had won.

No monetary award, statuette or trinket comes along with the award — it merely serves to raise the profile of the games’ creators, to heighten awareness of financial literacy education, and to make teachers more aware of some of the resources that are available to them in this field.

“We are very honored to receive this award and are excited to be able to share this game with our public school educators and their students,” said David Kijek, WEA Member Benefits President and CEO. “ A journey toward financial security begins by building financial knowledge in the classroom,” he added.

People can find more information about WEA Member Benefits and the Don’t Be Jack: High School Edition” financial learning game at https://weabenefits.com/dbjstudent/.

This free educational resource is only available in Wisconsin to WEA members.

Meanwhile, Utrie has been asked to help revise the game again early next spring to reflect the newly updated state financial literacy standards.

While most of the concepts stressed remain the same, the updated standards include more on the nature and potential pitfalls of digital currency and more information on deceptive advertising and the importance of being digitally aware.

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