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High School Students Learn About Money From Own Bank
By Brian Witte   Associated Press
DICKINSON, N.D. — High school students here are learning about money, loans and getting the best interest rates in town — all from their own school-based bank.

Dickinson High School students can cash checks, get change, take out loans of up to $200 and start savings accounts that pay 4 percent interest annually.

If they need cash, the teens can make transactions on the way to class with a quick stop in the hallway at a small room, where their classmates become their bankers.

"It's very convenient," said Teresa Mathew, a 17-year-old junior, after cashing a check before class. "I think it is helpful, and people do learn a lot from it, too."

The bank, open to current students and school employees, is run by students who study banking in a class that lasts half a year. The course is designed to teach students how to be professional bank tellers.

Carson Svihl, an 18-year-old senior who recently started the class, finds it harder than he expected, but he likes the challenge.

"It's going to be a lot more fun to actually do something in person rather than reading out of a book," Svihl said.

Elsie Reichert, the banking instructor, said the class enhances banking knowledge of the school's 1,000 students. Even if they don't take the class, their patronage is a learning experience, too.

"Banks are no longer unapproachable to them, which I think they are for a lot of people still — adults included," she said last week.

Community First National Bank came to the school with the idea of starting a class to teach students about banking. The high school bank was created in 1994.

DuWayne Schwindt, the vice president of Community First, said it seemed like a good idea, considering the number of adults who have trouble balancing their checkbooks.

"It's a special relationship, and it's an opportunity for industry and education to partner in educating our youth," Schwindt said.

The student bank has a depository account at Community First, which pays them a special interest rate to help them make earnings. Community First also lets the student bank loan money to students at a better interest rate than they would find elsewhere.

Community First found an interested instructor in Reichert, who ran the school store before she started teaching banking. The bank trained her as a teller so she could teach the class. One of her graduates landed a job at Community First. Others have gone on to work in other banks.

After starting with $500 in capital from Community First, the student bank's deposits have grown from zero to about $10,000.

About 30 students have savings accounts of up to $500, and the bank cashes checks for a 1 percent fee. Check cashing is its most popular activity.

Students also keep track of credit checks and sometimes even have to chase down delinquent loans by writing letters to parents, who must cosign student loans. The bank has about 10 loans out this year.

The bank has had one bad loan so far, after a student skipped town. Students went to court and got an outstanding judgment — "so in order for him to get credit anyplace, he's going to have to pay us," Reichert said.

The bank turns a profit of several hundred dollars a semester, Reichert said, though profits vary. The students use the money to take a field trip relating to the industry.

These days, students set interest rates, and they determine fees for cashing checks. They also take turns working in the bank for 30 minutes before school and at lunch Monday through Friday.

Overall, the student tellers appear to be satisfying their customers.

"Seniors graduating want to continue banking there," Schwindt said.

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