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Each week in Delaware, branch managers and other staff from seven banks visit 24 elementary schools and one middle school either before classes or during lunch and collect deposits in a program designed to teach students to save money. Students sometimes serve as junior tellers. This activity is part of the Delaware Bank At School program, which is now 14 years old.
Fifth-grader Nicholas Matos (right) enrolls in the Bank At School program as classmate Belen Cerdan-Villalobos waits her turn. Phillis Wheatley Middle School in Bridgeville, DE, began participating in the Bank At School program with Discover Bank this year.
In the program, banks work with one or more schools. Wilmington Trust, the first bank to become actively involved, currently works with 14 schools. Other participating banks include Artisans’ Bank, Citizens Bank, Discover Bank, First National Bank of Wyoming, PNC Bank, and Wachovia Bank. A total of 36 schools have been involved for varying intervals since the program’s inception.
The Delaware Bank At School program was designed by two educators, Ronni Cohen, a former elementary school teacher who has been executive director of the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute (DFLI) since 2002, and Bonnie Meszaros, Ph.D., associate director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEE&E), in collaboration with Delaware State Treasurer Jack Markell.
The program has received the support and approval of Delaware’s state bank commissioner, Robert Glen. This approval enables participating banks to accept deposits outside bank branches. In addition, the procedures for students to open accounts and make deposits are more relaxed in the program. Although the enrollment process varies slightly based on the requirements of the sponsoring bank, all parents sign a Bank At School permission slip. In addition, the child’s Social Security number must be given and the school provides additional verification of the child’s identity. Most of the participating banks provide noncustodial savings accounts. With a noncustodial account, the child is the account holder and parents do not need to be listed.*
Ronni Cohen, Executive Director, Delaware Financial Literacy Institute
Children are encouraged to make deposits as often as possible, even if the amount is very small. “The intent of the program is to instill the ethic of savings in children,” Meszaros explained. “We focus on the frequency of the children’s efforts to save, not the actual dollar amount they are depositing each week.”
Children are discouraged from making withdrawals from their accounts at school. They are able to withdraw from their accounts at bank branches. Participating banks are required to mail statements to the students’ homes on a quarterly basis. Some banks mail statements home more frequently if there is activity in the account.
Participating banks and schools enter into a Bank At School contract, which was developed by the DFLI and the CEE&E. Teachers leading the effort at each school receive the National Council on Economic Education’s Financial Fitness for Life curriculum, which includes a teacher’s guide, parent’s guide, and child’s workbook that teach about banking and the importance of saving money. This curriculum is provided by CEE&E at no cost to the school.
Administration of the program is mainly funded by the DFLI and CEE&E. Many of the bankers who participate provide additional incentives and prizes for the students, such as pizza parties for the class with the highest participation or most frequent deposits, or pencils, bookmarks, stickers, and notepads.
Cohen noted: “This program is a huge commitment for the banks that participate. It is not a money-making proposition, but the banks participate because they want to encourage the children to save and teach them about the fundamentals of banking.” She added that “in order for the program to be successful, the school needs a very supportive teacher and principal.”
For information, contact Della Hoffman of the Delaware Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship at (302) 831-0268 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Ronni Cohen of the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute at (302) 792-1200 or email@example.com; www.bankatschool.com.