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Lessons to bank on

Schools teach top math students how to handle money

Schools teach top math students how to handle money

September 24, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Joe Rohr has a savings account.

He banks at a "branch" that is convenient for him.

There's no drive-through window. And that's OK. Joe, 8 years old, doesn't drive.

A third-grader at Williamsport Elementary School, Joe banks in Nellie Jordan's classroom.

He deposits his allowance "and stuff."

"It can save my money," he said.

On a recent Wednesday morning - the weekly banking day at Williamsport - several children arrived to bank as part of the program that began in 1992 with one principal in one elementary school.

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Now 20 Washington County schools participate, and, as of last week, there are 3,282 active accounts totaling $762,509.16, said Steve Hummel, Hagerstown Trust's vice president for branch administration and security.

Duane Arch, from Hagers-town Trust's Wesel Boulevard branch, attended all three school open houses to explain the program to parents from the bank's point of view.

He comes to the weekly school banking sessions, but he's there just to answer questions and help students open accounts.

Student tellers handle the money with oversight from parent volunteers, who also make the deposits at the banks.

The tellers are fifth-graders who, as top math students, are eligible to apply for the positions. They are required to fill out applications, listing references and previous work experience.

The children get a taste of a real-life experience and think about the value of doing chores and helping, said Jordan, the Quest Enrichment teacher at the school.

Jordan gently reminded teller Tracy Forcino, 10, to greet her customers.

Sandy Stresewski, the parent volunteer with the program, sat beside student teller Zachary Lucas, quietly supporting him as he recorded deposits, thanked his customers and double-checked his count and addition.

Zachary, 10, has a school savings account and said he's saving money for college. He also will have money available for whatever he wants to buy, he said.

He's been trained for his work as a teller, and part of that training is the importance of confidentiality, Hummel said. The adult banker credits a years-ago shopping trip with his family for helping him to come up with the idea of school banking. One of his then much younger children wanted to buy something. Hummel asked how he would pay for it and realized that children need some financial education.

The program couldn't work without the support of parents and faculty, Hummel added.

Susan Sullivan helps with the banking program at Lincolnshire Elementary School, where her daughter, Rebecca, a third-grader, saves.

The program gives students a sense of responsibility and an opportunity to save money.

"It's important for kids at a young age to learn about things," she said.

There are other programs.

Hagerstown-based Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust has its Save for America banking program in five Washington County elementary schools as well as 20 other schools in Maryland's Allegany and Garrett counties, said Nicki Brinegar of F&M's marketing and public relations department. Bank branches work with schools in their neighborhoods.

West Virginia's treasurer, John D. Perdue, also considered financial education important and initiated a statewide Bank at School program in elementary schools and secondary schools in 1999. Elementary schools partner with local banks.

At the high-school level, the curriculum is the Financial Planning Program of the National Endowment for Financial Education, online at www.nefe.org. The program has a component for adults, and Linda Hawkins, director of School Financial Education Programs in the West Virginia treasurer's office, said she is contacting college counselors to present financial literacy in freshman orientation and senior seminars.

Teachers are trained and can receive continuing education credit, Hawkins said. Lesson plans and support are available.

The program's goals include making students aware of the benefits and availability of savings accounts and encouraging the habit of saving and planning for future investments, according to information on the Department of Treasury Web site at www.wvtreasury.com.

As of January 2004, the program was in 326 - of 810 - West Virginia school systems. More than 30,000 students and more than 130 banks are involved. Students have saved more than $300,000, Hawkins said.

At the high school level, the financial education goes beyond simple banking.

Sonya Shockey teaches Hedgesville High School students about saving money, investing and insurance. This is her fifth year with the program. She said she squeezes six days of the program into her world history classes.

She uses the example of buying a car to help the students relate to concepts of money. They don't always appreciate it at the time, but students have come back to her for information when questions arise in real life, she said.

"This is something they really need and don't get at home," she said.

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