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Banking On The Future High School Students Learn Money Management By Operating Their Own Financial Institution

For most high school students, “hands-on training” and “real life experience” doesn’t often mean handling large sums of other people’s money.

But for three Ontario High School seniors, the last several weeks has meant learning the duties and responsibilities of a bank teller under the tutelage of Western Bank and its assistant manager, Mel Baldwin.

That the three students, Denise Price, Synthea Atkinson and Josh Brittingham, have all been taking deposits, cashing checks, balancing totals and in general, serving the bank’s customers is impressive enough, but it’s not enough for them. Instead, with the start of school, they’ll embark on a whole new career, as bankers, running their own bank at their high school.

And while the bank won’t offer the full array of financial services, (you can forget asking them for that second mortgage on your parents’ home or to finance a quick “munchies” run to 7-Eleven, for instance, and they won’t loan you the funds to start a concessions stand in fifth-period Sciences Lab, either) they will offer checking and savings accounts to students and staff, and they’ll also be able to issue automatic-teller cards that will work just about anywhere. In other words, this is not just a glorified piggy bank.

“It will be a real bank,” said Baldwin. “They’ll run it just like other banks, and they’ll have to meet the same regulations we do.”

The other important thing about the new financial institution, recently named Tiger Bank, is it will be independent: It is not a branch of Western Bank, Baldwin said, but rather is its own identity.

“We’ll be closely involved with it, of course: We’ll help provide equipment, forms and the training for them to run the bank, and Western Bank does handle the data processing, processing checks and deposits that are processed electronically, but it’s their own bank. They named it, they get to set their own hours of operation, and the rules they’ll operate under.”

Still, the bank’s sponsorship of the project was crucial to its creation, and Baldwin said the new bank is part of Western Bank’s statewide School Bank program to introduce more high school students to the banking industry.

“There are a number of these projects going on across the state, several on the west side of the state, and there are two in high schools in Bend,” he said.

What that means, Baldwin said, is both Western Bank and Ontario High School students will get the benefits of learning from the experience of others, and they’ll have a better chance of avoiding some of the pitfalls which affected other banks.

“Basically what we’ve heard is that in some schools there was a really exciting start, with everyone really interested in the process, and then everybody got busy, and some of the interest dropped off. That’s a problem, of course, because a bank’s a day-in, day-out sort of business,” he said.

The high school bank project was conceived early this year when Baldwin approached the school with the idea, and together faculty members (notably, Harry Hedrick, high school’s personal finances instructor and now Tiger Bank’s adviser) and Western Bank presented the plan to the school board.

The plan called for three students to be trained to manage and operate the bank, and then for those students to train their own replacements to keep the bank running in years to come. When the school board approved the program, students were nominated, interviews were held, and Price, Brittingham and Atkinson, all seniors, were chosen.

After a little more than three weeks of training, the three all agreed they were most impressed with how much bank tellers need to know.

“They make it look easy,” said Brittingham as the other two nodded. “There’s so much to remember, I’ve really gained a new respect for the people who do the job full time.”

All three say they were attracted to the banking opportunity for the chance to get a hands-on training, and to learn more about the industry.

“I heard about it when we were getting the schedule for the school year, and I knew I wanted to get involved,” said Atkinson. “I have a hard time sitting and learning, when I can get involved with really doing something like this.”

All three said their training has been focused on the mechanics and marketing of banking, but also on such things as confidentiality and security, issues crucial to getting students to use the bank.

“Learning the customer service has been what I’ve really liked. You get to learn about people and their lives, while you’re doing a job they want done,” said Price. “We’ve got to give credit to the customers of Western Bank, who have let us learn while we serve them.”

While high school is still working on remodeling the area in the school where the bank will be located, the students say they hope the bank will be up and running soon after school starts. They’ve tentatively decided to open their windows for business during the “zero period” of the school day, from 8 to 8:30 a.m., at lunch time, and after school on selected days.

Everyone associated with high school will be eligible to have an account, seniors will be able to have their own account, while underclassmen will need a parent or cosigner. There’s no word whether faculty will need a cosigner.

All three students say they expect the bank will be widely accepted among the student body, and that’s something Atkinson says will benefit the community.

“Having you own checking or savings account teaches you responsibility. I’ve had one for four years, and I know I’ve become more careful with my money when it’s my own. I think this bank will do the same for the school.”

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