A consumer education program targeting high school students is taking off in a number of states.
The National Coalition of Consumer Education, based in Madison, N.J., developed a program called Lifesmarts with a grant from MCI Communications.
The program is designed in a game-show style to entice students to learn about such topics as personal finance, health and safety, the environment and technology, and consumer rights and responsibilities.
Unlike other consumer initiatives, which involve preparing original brochures and special curriculums, the coalition is acting as an information clearing house, referring teachers to various consumer groups and government agencies.
Comparatively, Visa U.S.A.'s Choices and Decisions, which also targets young people, is a package of materials that provide teachers with lesson plans and other tools to teach students about personal finance issues.
Carole Glade, executive director of the coalition, recommends that teachers "simply put a consumer spin on what they already teach."
For example, a teacher could introduce marketing and advertising materials into a psychology class to discuss how advertisers encourage people to buy their products.
So far, 26 schools in four states are participating in the Lifesmarts pilot, which is modeled after game shows like Family Feud and Jeopardy.
Teams of five students from each school compete in city, regional, and national contests, answering questions about credit bureaus, credit card agreements, smoke detectors, and the return of damaged merchandise.
A panel of experts from government agencies and consumer groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and the Federal Trade Commission, compile questions and provide answers for the competitions.
"There are a number of studies that show that kids spend billions of dollars every year, but they are not prepared to do so," added Ms. Glade.
The coalition expects to roll out Lifesmarts in 22 states this year, and plans to eventually reach about 100 schools in all 50 states.
Established in 1981, it is a national organization that partners with companies and associations to distribute and share consumer information.