RIO LINDA, Calif. – When students return to classes next month at Rio Linda High School, they’ll not only be getting an education they can bank on, but an education about credit unions as well. That’s because a branch of SAFE FCU will be operating at the school, staffed and run entirely by the students in an ROP – Regional Occupational Program – class. This will mark the first full year that the branch has been in operation. It was started Feb. 3 with a handful of students who had completed an internship program with SAFE. “It was a collaborative effort [with the Grant Union High School District] to help build a little more financial awareness in the school system,” explained Steve Frace, marketing manager at SAFE. Such programs, he noted, “are not something in the normal curriculum.” “Opening a SAFE credit union branch presents our students with a real world enterprise that can benefit students, staff and parents,” said Stephen Liles, the principal at Rio Linda High, when the branch was first opened. “I’m very optimistic that this enterprise will succeed and flourish.” The opening of the branch at a local school marked the second such undertaking for the credit union. Since 2003, it has overseen a branch at Highlands High School in North Highland run by students in the Highlands High School Business Academy. Liles was principal of Highlands at the time. Unlike credit union branches located in other high schools overseen by adult staff, SAFE’s school branches are run entirely by students. “Essentially, they are running their own small business,” Frace said. In the ROP program at Rio Linda, students create their own corporation, electing a president and other officers and assigning specific jobs that need to be fulfilled. Such hands-on experience gives them a good idea of exactly what it takes to run a successful business. At the Rio Linda credit union, students and faculty can apply for SAFE membership, make deposits and fill out loan applications. Savings accounts can be named for specific things, such as a “prom” or “car” account. “The kids are accountable and responsible for acquiring members, managing all the daily transaction history and they got audited just like one of our regular branches,” Frace said. “They passed,” he added. No cash is dispensed at the branch, other than through an ATM provided by SAFE that disburses funds in $5 increments. “You probably haven’t seen that in a long time,” Frace said with a laugh. “I know the Diebold guys were really surprised.” Computers provided by SAFE allow members to access their accounts and perform transactions online. SAFE also donated furniture to set up the branch. The branch, located in the busy school store, is only open for about 30 minutes each day during lunch period. At the end of the school day, deposits and membership and loan applications, which are kept securely, are transported by a school police officer to a SAFE branch for processing. The program proved so popular at the end of the school year that more than 30 students applied to participate when school reopens Aug. 28, Frace reported. In the meantime, three students from Rio Linda and three from Highlands are spending a month as interns at SAFE, preparing to lead the program when they return to their schools. Students in the internship program spend from 9 a.m. to noon four days a week at the credit union learning about its operations. That includes everything from loss prevention and compliance to human resources, facilities and marketing. They also spend three full days at a SAFE branch either “shadowing” tellers or gaining actual hands-on experience at the service counter. “They get a complete picture” of credit union operations, Frace said. -

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