Two JHS Students Win PAYBACK Awards

*Original article written by Danielle Bautista, Laura Matchette, & Tim Ranzetta of NGPF; edits made to personalize the story by Laura Sprague

PALO ALTO, California, April 26, 2018 – Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), a non-profit committed to ensuring that ALL students leave high school with the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly complex financial world, is pleased to announce the 150 honorable mention winners of their inaugural PAYBACK Challenge, two of whom are Johnston High School students.

Elma Ibrahimovic

Elma Ibrahimovic

Sierra Wicks

Sierra Wicks

This essay contest attracted over 500 submissions from students in all fifty states. In Iowa, JHS students Elma Ibrahimovic and Sierra Wicks were named honorable mentions and will receive a scholarship for their efforts. After playing the award-winning game, PAYBACK, students wrote a 250 word essay with the following prompt:

How could you use the online game, PAYBACK, to have a conversation with your parent/guardian about paying for college?”

Johnston High School business teachers Lexi Shafer and Kayla Bousum used the PAYBACK game as part of the curriculum in their financial literacy courses. Shafer and Bousum, along with other business/finance teachers from across the nation, then nominated the best student essay from their classes. NGPF staff then reviewed these essays, judging them based on the following criteria:

  • Indicates an understanding of key concepts learned by playing the game PAYBACK.
  • Addresses concerns their parents/guardians may have about this sensitive topic.
  • Takes a creative approach to engaging parents/guardians in a conversation about college.

Here’s the complete list of winners by state. Each of the 150 Honorable Mention winners will receive a $500 award from NGPF to be used for educational purposes. NGPF will announce the ten PAYBACK Challenge Finalists on Thursday, May 3.

“Over 60,000 students played PAYBACK during the contest period,” noted NGPF Founder, Tim Ranzetta. “Reading through hundreds of essays demonstrated how PAYBACK spurred so many thoughtful conversations between students and their parents/guardians. We applaud the educators who provided their students with the opportunity to grapple with these challenging decisions BEFORE they leave high school. Congratulations to the winners and to all those who participated!”

Here’s how a few students explained what they learned after playing PAYBACK:

“After completing the game, I discussed strategic ways to lower college costs with my parents. I presented choices I made during the game, which spurred conversations of how to collectively save money.”

“Payback serves as an excellent tool. It showed me that paying for college is not only possible but manageable, and moreover, help initiate the conversation that desperately needed to happen between my parents and myself. College doesn’t have to be impossible.”

“Payback is a simulation of the real college experience. It shows that college is truly a constant balance of focus, connections, happiness, and debt and that only with the right tools will one be successful.”

PAYBACK recently received a Webby Award for best Social Impact game and is a free game available at

About Next Gen Personal Finance

Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), has become the “one-stop shop” for financial educators looking for high-quality, engaging curriculum to equip students with skills to thrive in their future.  In just three years, NGPF’s comprehensive online curricular resources and teacher training have already been used by over 10,000 teachers in all fifty states. They love NGPF’s approach that can be summarized as the 4 Cs: Curated, Comprehensive, Customizable and Current (and it’s FREE too!).

Payback Challenge Honorable Mentions 14