GAITHERSBURG, Md. -At Montgomery County Teachers Federal Credit Union, promoting the financial literacy of its members has simply become a way of life. The Maryland State Department of Education has singled out the $306 million credit union by presenting it with the 2004 Outstanding Career and Technology Secondary Business Partnership Award of Excellence. MCT FCU was recognized for its over six-year partnership with the Montgomery County Public Schools, which is a mix of providing Academy of Finance students work-based experience, operating in-school branches, and improving finance-related Career and Technology Education programs. "I don't know why an education-based credit union wouldn't jump at an opportunity to partner with a school district," said MCT FCU Vice President of Marketing Joel Safarti. "I know that you can't justify involvement on an economic level but positioning yourself as the education resource in the school system builds relationships with everyone from the head of the board of education and superintendent to the parents and students. So I may not be able to draw a solid line from in-school branches to income, but I do know it makes it easier to walk in and share our brand and culture." MCT FCU Director of Financial Centers Jane Wescott adds that the program's success comes from forming a true partnership. "It is critical when going into the schools that there are clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and the commitment has to be there from both the credit union and the school," said Wescott. "Since we have this relationship with the Academy of Finance over the years we've developed a manual complete with everything from guidelines to incentive programs for in-school branches and we're thrilled with the results." Currently the credit union operates some five student-run branches at MCPS high schools and the goal is to open at least one new branch per year. Credit union staffers are assigned to schools and provide everything from supplies and training to marketing and educational materials. Members of the MCT FCU executive staff are also dedicated and active members of the Career Connections Committee for the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education as well as the AOF advisory board. The credit union helps MCPS in its school reform efforts by participating in strategic planning activities on the local Cluster Advisory Board for Business Management and Finance. In addition, Safarti is sure to visit each in-school branch to ensure the needs of the school are being met. "What's great about this is that when we were initially approached by the Academy of Finance it was after they tried something similar with a local bank and were disappointed," said Safarti. "We were immediately able to show the credit union difference through our dedication to education and the community by being very involved in every stage while really working with the faculty and the students not only in the existing in-school branches but every new school location. It has been a wonderful way to put a face on the credit union." It also seems to be a hit with the younger members as the majority of students that open accounts at the school branches maintain them well after graduation. "While our primary purpose is education it also happens to make good business sense to develop these long-term relationships," said Safarti. In addition to the branches MCT FCU is a major supporter of the annual Academy of Finance Student Professional Development Conference and conducts mock job interviews where students can get help with resumes while brushing up on their interview skills. This year's event included other business groups and a mini fashion show on how to "dress for success". "We take the practical information and skills and make it fun," said Wescott. MCT FCU also offers at least 12 paid internships for Academy of Finance students each year. Not only that but the credit union coordinates and sponsors job-shadow days allowing students to shadow various financial and business professionals. During the past two years, the number of students involved in the Academy of Finance program has more than tripled from 120 students to almost 400 students. Since 1999 more than 60 students who participated in paid internships at the credit union have gone on to college and some 10% continued working at the credit union during college. As for what's ahead for MCT FCU, according to Wescott and Safarti, they are looking into expanding the program to help teach children with special needs some basic money management concepts and skills. [email protected]

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