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Taking Education All the Way to the Bank


For the past five summers, Sandi Campbell has worked at an ice cream shop. This summer, the high school senior will be behind a counter, but instead of handing out double dips, she will be handling money - as a bank teller.

For Sandi, it will be familiar territory. As part of a course during the school year, she has been interning at the Beverly National Bank branch at Hamilton-Wenham High School.

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Located right inside the school's front doors, the branch is a full-service bank in its first year and affords students the opportunity to learn financial lessons in the "real world."

The course and bank are the result of a three-way partnership between Hamilton-Wenham High School, Beverly National Bank, and the New England Banking Institute. The program mirrors a nationwide school-to-work trend to better prepare students for the future. (Another branch is located in nearby Beverly High School.)

Even though most of the customers at Hamilton-Wenham are high school students and teachers, the branch is open to the public Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., when school is in session.

For those age 20 and under, the bank offers free checking accounts (with a parent or guardian, if under age 16), savings accounts, checks with the school's logo, and ATM cards.

"One of my teachers kept asking me, 'Could I take out $700? Could I take out $1,000 if I wanted to?' I was like, 'Yes!'" says Sandi. "We are a full-service bank."

The two Beverly National branches are among 49 high-school bank branches in Massachusetts. "It is a growing trend, more so with community banks," says Mark Hurley, president of the Massachusetts School Bank Association.

Financial institutions benefit from finding potential employees like Sandi and nurturing future customers, but "I wouldn't say profit is the motivation," Mr. Hurley says.

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Ellen Sullivan, school-bank coordinator for First & Ocean National Bank in Newburyport, Mass., oversees several high school bank branches. "Kids will come in and take out 25 cents for lunch," she says. "Hopefully the student who comes in and opens a lunch savings account today will remember us 15 years from now when he needs a mortgage."

Here at Hamilton-Wenham, students start off in a course titled "Fundamentals of Banking," taught by Marilyn Delana. (She says she knew things were sinking in when one of her students informed her that Alan Greenspan, the federal reserve board chairman, "is getting married.")

The curriculum was developed by the New England Banking Institute and covers banking operations, history, products, marketing, and more.

Those students who choose to continue with the "lab" semester - in the real bank - go through formal job interviews (with coaching) and the usual training, including bank policies, procedures, and protocol. Students earn six high-school credits and, with a little extra work, they can transfer the course into three college credits.

Corey Hildonen, a senior, says he's enjoyed learning about investments, mortgages, and loans. "Before I took the course I had never really thought about how important it is to keep a good credit report," he says. Also, when he sees ads on television for new cars, he understands what is involved in the financing. As a teller, one of his most challenging moments came when he learned that "the kid before me was off by $100. I had to find it." (He did.)

At a time when credit-card debt has never been higher, Beverly National Bank officials have felt the need to teach fiscal responsibility at an early age, says Julia Robichau, the bank's vice president and cashier/chief operations officer. "We also wanted to bring business closer to education," she says, adding that the bank and its officials have always been community-oriented. "I only see this program being enhanced as we go along."

Other students in the school have participated in marketing for the bank, broadening the school-to-work practice. The advertising design class, for example, created a "Be Cool ... Bank in School" slogan and banner.

Marcia Crateau, the branch manager who oversees the student employees, says one improvement she would like to see is more outside communication. "I think a lot of parents aren't aware of it." (Although recently, one mother who had to drive an hour to deliver her son's forgotten lunch marched right into the bank and had her son open an account.)

But she is constantly impressed at the professionalism the students exhibit. "I never had anyone even show up late," she says emphatically.

Ms. Delana says the course includes business skills and etiquette. Adhering to a dress code and filling out a job application are part of the picture, she points out. Then, handling other people's money forces you to be responsible. She stresses that "this isn't just for kids who are not going onto college.

"Students are asking for this," she insists. "They want the skills that will prepare them for the outside world."

Rae Carlsen, corporate training director for the New England Banking Institute, says that students don't have to be the best and the brightest to do well in this program. "But they must be motivated and enthusiastic. There's been some reluctance in the academic and corporate worlds to work together. But what we're finally coming to realize," says Ms. Carlsen, "is that this kind of partnership is mutually beneficial in the long run."

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