« BACK


Making Sense of Your Money

RCU, WESTconsin offer in-school programs to boost kids’ financial smarts

Tom Giffey

ABOVE: With the help of RCU staff members such as Ali Peterson, right, student “team members” like these at Meadowview Elementary School in Eau Claire help their peers and teachers make transactions. BELOW: Students can earn prizes, such as toys and T-shirts, for making frequent deposits.
ABOVE: With the help of RCU staff members such as Ali Peterson, right, student “team members” like these at Meadowview Elementary School in Eau Claire help their peers and teachers make transactions. BELOW: Students can earn prizes, such as toys and T-shirts, for making frequent deposits.

Ask many middle school students what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll probably hear answers like “pro football player” or “video-game tester” or “pro football player who also tests video games.” For students involved in programs like Royal Credit Union’s School $ense, the answer is more likely to be “banker.”

“I like the idea of banking, and I thought it would be kind of cool to do something with money at lunch,” said Carter Jaenke, a Northstar Middle School eighth-grader who is beginning his third year as a student team member in the School $ense program. “We get to help people deposit money, withdraw money, and put checks in,” he said. Students mostly make cash deposits, he explained, while adults make deposits with checks and sometimes even make loan payments.

“You learn a little about responsibility, and math, and some leadership.” – Carter Jaenke, Northstar Middle School eighth-grader and RCU School $ense team memberAnd while helping students to develope job skills is one aspect of the program, School $ense is primarily about teaching kids the ABCs of financial literacy. “The overall goal is to really teach the kids to be good financial savers, to start them out at an early age to save their money, to pay themselves first, and when it’s time to be good spenders, to know what a budget it is,” explains Kathy Buyze, RCU’s school site supervisor.

The program brings credit union services to thousands of students and adults at 27 school sites across west-central Wisconsin. In total, about 350 young team members like Carter and his sister, sixth-grader Morgan, learn how to make deposits, withdrawals, and other basic transactions for their peers and teachers during weekly branch hours at their schools.

School $ense, now in its 21st year, involves numerous schools in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire, as well as elsewhere in the region, including Balsam Lake, Colby, Rice Lake, River Falls, and St. Croix Falls. School braches are typically open once a week (sometimes more often at the high school level) and offer kids incentives – from light-up pens to T-shirts and $5 gift cards – to make frequent deposits. Student team members count the money and enter transactions into the credit union’s computer system (under adult supervision, naturally). While most deposits are small, they add up: According to Buyze, last year students and teachers made more than 22,000 deposits totaling a whopping $462,000! The program not only encourages students to be savers, it also helps their schools: For every 500 deposits made at a school site, the participating school gets a $250 donation from RCU.

Student participants at School $ense high school sites get more responsibility and experience. At Memorial and North high schools in Eau Claire, they are hired as interns through a youth apprenticeship program, and in addition to working at the high school, they are given teller responsibilities at regular branches after school and on weekends, Buyze said.

RCU isn’t alone in providing in-school services in western Wisconsin. Menomonie-based WESTconsin credit union offers similar hands-on education efforts in the western Wisconsin communities it serves, and maintains offices in high schools in Amery, Hudson, Menomonie, New Richmond, and River Falls. At these WESTconsin sites, student tellers gain work experience while their peers get tips on financial literacy. Likewise, both WESTconsin and RCU offer in-classroom educational programs for students to gain important financial knowledge.

Eighth-grader Carter Jaenke is looking forward to getting involved in the high school portion of the School $ense program when he attends North High School. For young team members like Carter, part of the program involves marketing School $ense, and he is quick to point out that banking at school is much easier than going to a branch to make a transaction, and that the program also educates kids about the importance of saving money – particularly for college – and not just spending it. There are also benefits for team members, like himself, he adds: “You learn a little about responsibility, and math, and some leadership.”

To learn more about RCU’s School $ense program, visit www.rcu.org/investments_and_savings/school_sense_sites.phtml. For information on WESTconsin Credit Union’s school programs, go to www.westconsincu.org/Student$avers/schoolprograms.aspx.