Kids Get Cash and Credit

TRAVERSE CITY – When industry and education get together, good things usually happen.

Traverse City-based Members Credit Union's newest branch is getting (and giving) an education. Located at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District's Career-Tech Center campus, the student-run MCU branch opened for business in October and is the first full-service student-operated branch in an educational institution in the region.

The one-year pilot program is part of the Career-Tech Center's (CTC) Accounting and Office Technology program curriculum and the three student tellers are seniors in that program. Additionally, a student from the Visual Imaging Technology program is producing an internal marketing program for the student branch.

"Many of the student-operated branches elsewhere (in the state) are not designed to include curriculum," explains Marc McKellar, of the uniqueness of the program. McKellar is director of business development at MCU and a 17-year instructor of financial literacy to adults and youth.

"It's a real life look at banking and finance," says Julie Gauthier, Accounting and Business Technology program instructor. "It's a great opportunity for my students in the program and the CTC as a whole. The more financial knowledge they learn now, the more informed decisions they will make later."

A key element to this partnership, McKellar explains, is it involves a private entity coming in to support a school effort so the school doesn't have to do it on its own.

Principal Patrick Lamb says the opportunity for real work experience – while getting credit and getting paid – makes for a great fit for the CTC. "For us it's a no-brainer," says Lamb.

The early weeks of the operation have been a little on the slow side, but the tellers think it's because there's a misconception that it's just a training classroom and not a real bank for real transactions. So, they're heading into classrooms and presenting information on opening up savings and checking accounts at the credit union. And, students only need $5 to do so.

The school-based branch operates like any other MCU branch. The only difference is that the branch is "closed," meaning it's only available to TBAISD students, students' parents and faculty. As such, the branch will have much smaller numbers than what would be normal with a public branch, notes McKellar.

"If we get 100 members we'll break even," says McKellar, adding that while staff is its biggest expense, it is also cultivating an employee base.

But ultimately, the goal here is about arming students with financial smarts.

MCU's Angela Thomas trained the student tellers and continues to mentor them as the branch manager. These same students also have the opportunity to work at another MCU branch on Saturdays and during the summer. They may even transition into a regular branch after high school.

"These students will graduate with the experience and knowledge to give them a leg up on their competitors in seeking employment at a financial institution," says McKellar.

But the student tellers aren't the only ones getting a leg up. Students who become members will also be learning the fundamentals of financing, saving, tracking expenditures, and online banking.

"The goal is to provide hands-on learning in all aspects of personal finance; to expose students and walk them through it before they 'hit the real world,'" says McKellar. "Yes, it's a pilot program, but our intention is for it to succeed."

The MCU student branch is located within TBAISD's Career-Tech Center on Parsons Road in Traverse City. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to

2:00 p.m.

Grade-schoolers get

"Change Savers" Accounts

Local elementary students are getting into the banking act, too. Long Lake Elementary in Traverse City recently opened its first student-run credit union, a partnership with TBA Credit Union.

Fifth grade students were invited to apply for one of several positions, including branch manager, teller, bookkeeper, computer operator and marketing representative. Following an interview process, those "hired" received training in their respective positions.

"Children will become more aware of the value in saving money while enjoying a hands-on money management experience," says fifth grade teacher Jennifer Wohlfert. Similar credit unions are operating (or soon will be) at Blair Elementary, TCAPS Montessori, Cherry Knoll and Central.

Learn more about the program by contacting TBA's Robin Ahart at 231.932.5035.