The credit union has teamed up with two Broward County high schools to launch its CU@School program. According to BrightStar CU Vice President of Marketing Sam Chesser, the credit union has a new home in both Taravella High School and Flanagan High School. A credit union branch is also at a local elementary school bringing the total number of in-school branches to three.
"It is a name other credit unions use, but we use CU@School as our umbrella program, working with the school system and includes financial literacy as well as career day presentations and a student-run credit union program," said Chesser. "Financial education is something that the schools are very interested in providing, and the need is so great to educate the younger generation that this was a good match."
He added that while BrightStar is a community credit union, its core group consists of employees and students of Broward County Public Schools.
"We are still very much involved with schools; about two years ago we were named the business partner of the year by the school system and we've been honored by the Department of Education for our financial literacy efforts," said Chesser. "While we recognize the need for the young, we also include adults in our financial literacy programs."
The CU@School project has been in the works for a little over a year, and Chesser said a great deal of time was spent visiting other credit unions across the country to determine best practices. A key component of the program is that BrightStar CU works with school curriculum directors to ensure that it would complement and reinforce the State of Florida mathematics/finance academy program currently in high schools.
"The program is designed to reinforce what currently exists while teaching kids about good life skills with topics ranging from checking and how to avoid bad debt to how to save for the future," said Chesser. "It's all tied together and personally I wish I had that kind of education in high school. The average consumer has too much debt and trouble managing their checking account. Making an effort now to reach out to them while they are young can provide a good foundation and skills they can build on before they are out in the real world."
The student-run credit union branches also provide invaluable life skills, Chesser explained. Students are required to apply and interview for all positions and get involved in actually running the branch, from transactions and opening accounts to operations and marketing.
"It is still early in the process, but so far so good," said Chesser. "It is too soon for us to prove a positive return on investment but this is a long-term investment on future members and helping people improve their financial lives and being a trusted resource is part of our mission. There is a need for this type of education and the benefits we get back in terms of loyalty and word of mouth are not measurable. Members are spreading the word about how credit unions work for consumers and that if we didn't teach the kids these skills they would never learn them."