Support Local Journalism

A Madison High School Student won $1,000 for continued education after submitting an essay in a scholarship contest.

Shaelyn Bell, a senior at the school, received an Honorable Mention Award in the fourth annual PAYBACK Challenge Scholarship Contest. The contest is hosted by Next Gen Personal Finance, a California non-profit committed to ensuring all high school students in the U.S. have access to a semester-long course in personal finance by 2030.

Jennifer Barzee, a business teacher at Madison High School, submitted Bell’s essay when Bell followed through with writing one after playing NGPF’s PAYBACK game.

“That’s what it takes,” Barzee said. “Especially this year with COVID, there’s lot of opportunities that I think can possibly be filled by students.”

Bell was one of Barzee’s former students and Barzee was happy to see her receive the award.

“She was a good student in my class and very deserving because she went through the process of submitting,” Barzee said. “I was glad to be a part of that success she had.”

She hopes that more students will apply annually for this and similar scholarship, she said. She also recommends families to subscribe to NGPF’s free blog for financial advice.

“I really appreciate them for the material that they provide us,” Barzee said. “They collect all this good information that is out there about personal finance that’s applicable in the classroom and in homes.”

PAYBACK is an award-winning college simulation game. Students applying for the NGPF scholarship were given the option to choose writing a short essay or creating a short video about the COVID-19 pandemic’s influence on a student’s decision-making process in college.

The game received a Webby Award for best Social Impact game in 2017 and was featured in the New York Times. It is free to play and is available at

Barzee said she first learned of NGPF at a statewide training for career technical educators. The variety of interactive personal finance activities the non-profit offered was something she wanted to incorporate in her classroom such as a game that simulates the life of an Uber driver.

“They have lots of interactive things to help students visualize financial concepts,” she said. “It’s really there to help students envision the financial choices they’ll have before and during college.”

Nearly 1,000 teachers across the country submitted essays from their students, according to a press release from NGPF. Over 210,000 students played PAYBACK.

“It was incredible to see such creativity from students and to see the impact this game has had on their attitudes and actions as they decide on their educational path after high school,” said NGPF Co-Founder Tim Ranzetta in the press release. “Our gratitude goes out to the educators who brought PAYBACK to their students during remote learning this year and facilitated amazing discussions that followed. With COVID-19 disrupting the plans of so many students, these conversations are more crucial than ever.”