Students at Barberton High School get a real-life experience in the school hallways – right next to the main office, to be exact.
A branch of the New Horizon Federal Credit Union opened last week. It is run by employed students, with the help of their recently retired teacher who is now the high school liaison for the credit union.
The goal is to help high school students understand the importance of savings and other forms of financial education that often aren’t taught directly in schools or as much as needed.
The high school branch would be the first in Summit County for a credit union and potentially in northeast Ohio, said Michael Heidenreich, CEO of New Horizon Federal Credit Union. Branches of high school credit unions are popular in the Cincinnati area, he said.
Akron Public School’s East Community Learning Center Got a Fake Bank for several years in partnership with KeyBank. He is part of the business and healthcare careers academy. Students help run the bank and can earn “KeyCash” to use for merchandise or school rewards.
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At Barberton High School, the goal is to encourage at least 100 of 1,200 students and faculty to open an account for as little as $5. Students as young as 14, or in their first year, can open a savings account on their own and a checking account at 16 with a parent’s signature.
Barberton Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Ramnytz likes that the credit union, which is in the space once used as a school spirit store, offers real-life skills.
“We have been trying for a long time to teach these skills to our children. We have a soft skills program called Do Your Job, which we’ve been doing for about nine or 10 years,” Ramnytz said. “It’s just another layer of cake to prepare these kids for life.”
“Amazon was just here talking about jobs and benefits and insurance. Those are the things we have to get, I mean, we talk about them in college because you have to start early,” he said. -he declares.
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Financial education will soon get a bigger boost statewide with next year’s freshman. A new law comes into effect that requires one semester of financial education with a state-certified teacher. Current state law requires some financial education, but it can be taught in another course.
I have long been an advocate for better financial literacy education in schools. I grew up in Illinois, where we had to take a consumer education class for a semester. I remember doing blind taste tests of Pepsi, Coke, and a generic soda and comparing the prices of other groceries. We also learned basic banking skills, like learning to reconcile a checkbook. Yes, I know kids these days don’t know how to write a check and many adults don’t write checks anymore, but it’s still important for kids to understand the difference between their account balance and what they actually have with outstanding payments or bill debits.
I was surprised when I started as a consumer columnist over 21 years ago that Ohio didn’t have financial education guidelines in school. I was even invited to a conference in Washington DC, which brought together various financial experts across the country, including representatives of the Federal Reserve, to try to come up with guidelines for states to provide on financial education since the level of education in these skills was all over the map nationally.
leave a legacy
The credit union branch was started by Kristen Ledman, who retired in July after teaching for 21 years at Barberton High School’s Business Management Compact. The program is hosted in Barberton and is a two-year career technology program that is part of the Four Cities Compact, which offers programs in Barberton, Norton, Copley and Wadsworth. Students from these four schools take the business management program at Barberton and can also open credit union accounts.
Ledman had contacted Heidenreich two years ago to see if he would consider employing one of the program’s students as part of their senior year internship program. Heidenreich did, and this student is still employed by the credit union and pursuing a degree in corporate finance at Kent State University.
Ledman and Heidenreich also began talking about the possibility of opening a credit union branch in high school. She was planning her retirement in 2021.
“I wanted to leave something for the students to be able to move forward in their life with their personal finances,” she said.
She jokes that she didn’t know she would have two weeks of “retirement” before starting her new job at the credit union.
But Ledman loves the opportunity to be back in high school in a different role.
For Heidenreich, he saw an opportunity to teach the younger generation – and gain new members.
“I think it’s important to let the younger generation know what a credit union is and that it’s an alternative financial institution, and then to understand that it’s actually run by its members. It’s also a non-profit organization,” Heidenreich said. Many will ask “” Oh you’re just a bank? No we are not.”
Similar to a bank, there are checking, savings accounts, debit cards and other services, but there are rules and regulations that make credit unions different from banks, Heidenreich said, including caps on interest rates and easier access to loans for members.
“So I think it’s also to help the credit union movement as a whole. To get the younger generation involved,” he said.
Lead the next generation
Barberton High School seniors Miguel Guerrero and Aaron George are both employees of the credit union and are students under the business management contract. They will staff the till when it is open on Tuesdays during one of their free periods, which coincides with a lunch period.
George said he got a lot of questions from his classmates about the credit union. It’s mostly confusion, he says. He hopes that with marketing and education, students will consider opening an account.
George also worked with Heidenreich to think of a giveaway: For the first 100 accounts opened, students would be put into a raffle for $250.
“My idea was that we needed something to incentivize these kids with money because I know my generation,” he said. “We are here, right now. We don’t really care about building credit; it’s future adulthood. We are still in high school. Why am I worried?”
No student opened an account on the first official day of the credit union earlier this week, but Barberton High School principal Henry Muren opened an account. George took her through a folder of forms and disclosures.
Like Ramnytz, Muren sees the tangible benefits of the branch.
He sees the credit union partnering with the school for the financial literacy portion, once the new class is taught, to give presentations to educate students.
Muren said the credit union also aligns with the guidance office’s 3 Es: celebrating kids who are enrolled or going to college, working or enlisting.
For young people who have a job, “a lot of them don’t know how to cash checks and how to open a bank account properly. So we would like to help that part of our population through that process,” he said.
Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected] Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher.