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Imparting sense through cents

BC's school banking program builds savers early on

Kids learn early on that five and five make ten, but when do they learn that two nickels make a dime?

Bethlehem Central School District's school banking program aims to have that realization come sooner rather than later. Elementary students have the opportunity to open a First Niagara bank account and, during a specified time weekly, make deposits during school hours. Letting students manage their own account takes math principles out of the classroom and into the real world, said Glenmont Elementary Principal Laura Heffernan.

We're teaching our children the value of saving their money, she said. "Those are life skills that they'll need."

All six BC elementary school participate in the program. Parent volunteers use computer software provided by the bank to take donations, and give students receipts that they'll later use to keep track of their account in a ledger. Withdrawals can be made from a First Niagara branch along with a parent's consent.

Glenmont's program sees approximately 30 participants every week out of a student body of about 400. Some students bank every week.

"We've really had tremendous success," said Glenmont PTA President Dawn McMahon.

Any elementary student can take part in the program, and First Niagara's Suzanne Kilcher said the program has merit for even the kindergartners.

"The product is really geared toward this young student," she said. "We know children learn by doing."

Even young students will recognize the reward of small prizes for every seventh deposit they make. That also enters them into a drawing for a $50 deposit into their accounts.

The program is offered in 220 schools across the state, from very affluent districts to the inner city. It's successful partly because account can be opened without any initial deposit, just parental consent, and from that point on deposits as small as 25-cents can be made.

First Niagara rewards the student with $1 upon their first deposit of any amount.

Kilcher said she sees people mismanaging their finances all the time, which is why banks offer services like overdraft protection. She hopes that instilling the value of saving and keeping track of one's money early on will make better bank customers in the future.

"We don't teach in our education system how to manage money," she said. "This is a start."

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