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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – These days students don’t have to go further than down the hall to find financial services from their local credit union. From elementary schools to high schools, credit unions are finding that student branches are a help in their efforts to promote financial literacy to younger members. According to CUNA, at year-end 2005, 134 credit unions in 30 states had a record 475 in-school branches, compared with 58 credit unions, 22 states and 191 branches in 2001. “The continued growth in the number of student-run K-12 branches is a measure of the movement’s resolve to actively engage youth in learning to become smart financial consumers,” said CUNA Director of Youth Programs Philip Heckman. “Consider that school is a student’s workplace. Making it easy to save money at school encourages a lifelong habit that has a dual payoff- students reach financial goals that they associate with membership and credit unions increase service use among young adults.” For 10 years Federal Way, Washington-based Woodstone Credit Union has been helping Federal Way and Decatur High School students prepare for the real world with its student branches. According to Woodstone CU Director of Marketing Donna Meyerhoff, the in-school branches, which are part of the schools’ business program provide students a unique school-to-work experience. “These high school branches and our educational philosophy in helping kids become financially aware are really important. How else except through programs like these are students to learn about money skills. Too many teens don’t know what to do when they graduate,” said Meyerhoff. “Our goal is to help educate students on developing good, solid financial skills so when they get out there in the real world on their own they are better prepared to budget their earnings and handle all the credit card offers headed their way.” As part of the partnership with the school, Woodstone CU developed a branch training program. Students are provided 10 hours of training at the credit union. They first have an hour-long meeting with accounting, marketing and loan departments then spend five hours with member service representatives learning about teller functions, security and how to dress professionally. Another 10 hours is spent at the in-school branches practicing processing actual teller transactions and reviewing valuable money handling and member service skills. At the end of the program, students are provided a certification of completion and a letter of recommendation from Woodstone CU, which is a graduation requirement at both high schools. To date over 150 students have graduated from the program and many have gone on to not only work in the financial industry but at the credit union’s main branch. In addition to the teller-certified program, Woodstone provides classroom speakers from several departments to cover topics ranging from the importance of saving and investing and how to apply for and choose the right loan, to how to become more credit worthy and how to budget. “Our role is to help educate students about financial management skills so our speakers go into classrooms to talk to the students,” said Meyerhoff. ” For example the loan manager will talk about the car buying process or how student loans work. Our human resources manager also stops by and talks about the interviewing process what employers look for, how to write a resume etc. We just try to teach as much as we can about financial management skills and life skills that can build their confidence about themselves and how they handle money after they leave high school.” Recently, Teachers Federal Credit Union’s student branching efforts in Farmingville, New York was featured in an article in The New York Times. Over the past three years TFCU has opened eight in-school branches in Suffolk County, and plans are underway to open two more before the end of the school year. “ Financial education is part of what we do,” said TFCU President/CEO Robert G. Allen. “At this age group they handle money. We are looking to retain future membership because for any organization or institution, the future is only going to work if you continue to bring in youth.” For students and faculty the convenience of location and hours are often cited as reasons for opening accounts at these branches. Credit unions looking to get into schools but not certain if an actual branch would work may want to try what Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union is doing. The credit union has opened the first mobile credit union branch at a middle school in Anchorage at Wendler Middle School. Through a partnership, Wendler students are given a hands-on opportunity to practice good savings habits without ever leaving their school campus. “We weren’t sure if we were ready to have students running a branch since it requires a lot of operational support up front so since our goal is to promote financial literacy at school and introduce the practice of a savings habit we knew our mobile branch would be a perfect place to start,” said Denali Alaskan FCU Marketing Officer Jinnie Nims. Along with the visiting mobile branch, a Teen Power finance club was created to get teens excited about the idea and to incorporate student involvement with the branch. Students that participate in the club earn extra credit. Denali Alaskan sponsors the club, which is run by a Wendler teacher, and regularly brings in volunteers to talk about savings and other financial concepts. “We want to give the students a chance to develop a life-long habit of saving. The earlier teens start, the easier it will be for them to continue as they grow older,” said Nims. “What really helped us is that we’ve had a relationship with the school outside of this. For example we have volunteers from the credit union that spend four hours a month going into classrooms and providing tutoring in reading and I think that effort really helped the school open its doors to us. I think teachers are aware there is a need to educate the young about personal finance and if credit unions can offer help and take some of the responsibility off their shoulders they’re grateful.” Nims adds that teacher support is vital to any school program’s success and credit unions have to be prepared to make themselves available to help and adapt their schedules to meet the school’s needs. Denali Alaskan also offers a Kids Prospector Club for children ages 12 and under. “We’ve just started with this branch in November but we’re pleased so far,” said Nims. “We’ve been out there twice and students are spreading the word and parents have been thrilled. It is going to take time, but to make it student-owned the teen club we sponsor will be more involved in promotions and helping us come up with incentives.” [email protected]

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