Bank branches in high schools a good financial lesson

bank branches in high schoolsHigh schools with bank branches, ATMs and tellers to help students withdraw money? Can we trust teenagers with these just down the hall from chem lab? I gave it some thought last week when I went to pick up my cousin Cate, who I blogged about recently regarding her pondering the merits of public versus private colleges. She needed a ride home from her high school, but I needed to stop on the way and withdraw some cash from an ATM. "No problem," Cate told me. "You can do it here."

What? "Yeah, my school has a bank branch here," Cate said.

She led me down a hallway of classrooms to the newest branch of the Golden 1 Credit Union, opened last fall. It's a tiny room but it's stocked with computer screens, brochures on the credit union's checking and savings accounts, and student bank tellers working behind the counter.

Cate greeted Por, an 18-year-old senior who works a two-hour teller shift every week. Por regrets to tell us that only students and faculty can use the bank services, so Cate says she'll spot me $20 from her account. While a Golden 1 staff person supervises, Por checks Cate's school ID, looks up her account and hands over a $20 bill from behind the counter.

So is a bank branch at school helping Cate get a better handle on her money, I ask? "I opened up my own checking and savings account and I do all my banking there, right after calculus class," she tells me. "And I don't have to worry about lines, like at my parents' bank."

Bank branches at high schools may be a slow but steady trend nationwide. Checking online, I see that just this year they've opened up at high schools in Delaware, Tennessee and even at an elementary school in Wisconsin.

The majority of these school branches are run by credit unions and community banks, not behemoths like Chase or Citi. Obviously, this is a great way for them to score new clients at a young age and keep them as long-term clients. But it's also a good method for teaching students about financial literacy. Not only do the student tellers get in-depth banking knowledge and real-life work experience, their clients -- fellow students -- learn how to open bank accounts, use checkbooks and keep track of how much money is going in and out.

This is especially good in areas with big immigrant populations, says the Sargent Shriver National Poverty Law Center. It studied two student-run banks in Illinois and Wisconsin and found that while the students gained financial familiarity, confidence and public speaking skills, their parents also gained exposure to "mainstream financial products," and more community involvement. In its study, the Center also included tips and advice for establishing a high school bank branch. It's worth passing on to your kid's teacher or principal to see if it's worthwhile for their own school.

In a time when managing money is more important than ever, but only a smidgen of schools teach students how to do so, bank branches in schools can be an effective way for youngsters to learn financial skills they'll need for life.
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