KEARNEY – Customers deposited into the room, stopping at the first desk to gather their account information before handing over their money or changing to the deposit slip manager at the next desk. After the cashiers checked the deposit, each customer happily chose a sticker or small prize.
Although this is not a normal banking environment – the customers and tellers are all Emerson Elementary School students – everything from cash to accounts is real. The Kearney Elementary School Banking Program began in 2014 in partnership with Trius Federal Credit Union. Primary school students can open savings accounts with their parents’ permission and have the opportunity to deposit money into them each week.
The idea for the program began at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said TFCU branch manager Jaci Pohl.
“They felt that if you develop these habits as an elementary school student, you’re more likely to have a bank account in high school, and that translates into savings accounts as an adult,” Pohl said.
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Starting in kindergarten, Emerson students can open a savings account with Trius. Bank employees visit the school once a week to give students the opportunity to deposit money into their accounts.
“They can contribute as little or as much as they want. In fact, we had a student, a first-grader, this morning who brought in a dime,” Emerson principal Jenny True said. “We try to teach that money adds up over time, and if you put a little money aside each week, it adds up.”
Fifth-grade students have the opportunity to work as bank employees under the program. At the start of the school year, they fill out a job application and have a job interview.
“They learn how to count money and fill out deposit slips and customer service,” True said.
Approximately 96% of the school’s students participate in the program. True has a number of initiatives to encourage students to save money. The class that brings in the most deposits each week is recognized with a poster for their achievements. She reminds families of the program during her Sunday evening phone call, and there is a sign outside the school on Tuesdays reminding parents and students to bring their deposits on Wednesdays.
As an incentive for students to save and deposit money, they can receive prizes for every three deposits as well as incentives for achieving monetary goals. Some of the prizes include a set of markers, t-shirts, gym bags, or gift cards. One of the most popular incentives is when they reach $500, a Trius employee will bring the lunch of their choice and have lunch with the student at school.
“They could pick McDonald’s or Runza or whatever, and they bring it, and they can have their own lunch with a bank clerk. … They love when that happens,” True said.
The banking program has helped what may be an abstract concept for children become more tangible, True said.
“Much of our spending and even our savings are electronic. So your paycheck is deposited electronically, I pay my bills online or I use a credit or debit card, and I never see that tangible money. Students don’t always understand that if I paid for something with the card, I have to have the money to back it up,” she explained. “It makes things more concrete for them and cements this idea in their minds that this is real, and we have to work for that.”
After students graduate from fifth year at Emerson, their savings are presented to them in the form of a check. Many students will come to Trius to open a new account, and Pohl said one student continued to save his money until he was old enough to put down a car deposit.
The students loved participating in the program, and it taught valuable lessons ranging from working with money to being responsible and helping others, True said.
“They love it. They love Bank Day. … It’s a great opportunity to work on responsibility with the kids because they bring their money in different ways. Some bring it in an envelope, d ‘others in a bag and then they cling to it and keep it safe throughout the day. … It just helps teach a lot of those skills,” she said.