Adisa Klempic, a student at Bulkeley High School in Hartford, works at a branch office of a credit union once a week during her lunch break.
It's a short commute for the 18-year-old senior. She doesn't even have to leave the school building to get from the classroom to her job as a teller at Franklin Trust Federal Credit Union.
The branch is on the high school's second floor, a few steps from the lunchroom and adjacent to the school's main office.
Open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., the small but neatly appointed office offers deposit, withdrawal and loan services to its members, which include teachers and students.
In an innovative approach to teaching students financial literacy, the credit union opened the satellite office in Bulkeley and, earlier this month, another one inside Weaver High School, also in Hartford.
The two branches, funded by credit union assets, each cost about $30,000 to build and furnish, said Kiernan J. Dubay, president and chief executive officer of Franklin Trust, the nation's fifth-oldest federally chartered credit union.
"These aren't moneymakers," Dubay said. "Our job here isn't just to make a dollar, but to educate our members."
Founded in 1934 by a group of Hartford-area teachers, Franklin Trust, a not-for-profit cooperative financial institution, now has 6,300 members, assets totaling $41 million and 30 part-time and full-time employees, including seven paid high school interns.
When the credit union contemplated opening satellite offices a few years ago, its goals were twofold: locate those offices near its members many of whom are teachers and use them as a resource to teach students about finances.
Through colleagues and trade industry publications, Dubay learned that several credit unions nationally had established branch offices at local high schools.
"Too many kids are overspending," Dubay said. "They go off to college and are bombarded by credit card offers. They come back from college saddled with debt.
"If students learn how to save when they're high school freshmen, then when they turn 18 and get a credit card, they'll know how to use it."
Students, who can open a savings account for as little as $25, are encouraged to do their banking at the credit union.
"They need to have a place where they can start saving, and we're right here," Dubay said. "We've just got to teach them a little bit of delayed gratification."
And also about financial independence, added Kabita Bhajan, a Franklin employee who supervises the student interns. "If they need something, they can save for it. They don't have to depend on their parents."
The opportunity to be a paid intern has allowed Jonida Shtembari, 17, the ability to "put the things we've learned in the classroom into practice" as well as accumulate her own savings.
"You can't be calling your parents all the time for money," Shtembari said.
To encourage students to start saving, the credit union offers them the chance to win laptop computers and iPods if they open an account.
The credit union operates much like a bank, but, as a member-based organization, it can pay higher interest rates on savings accounts and offer lower interest rates for loans, Dubay said.
Franklin's presence has given many students a confidence boost, said June Zottola, head teacher for Bulkeley's Academy of Business and Finance, an educational program within the high school that focuses on financial literacy.
"The interns now feel like it's possible to become part of a financial institution, that it's possible to become educated in finances, Zottola said. Students must apply for the paid internships, which start at $8.50 an hour.
"When we interview the kids, we look for upbeat, willing-to-help, happy people," Dubay said. "It's not about skills, it's about attitude."
Four paid credit union interns rotate through the Tuesday and Thursday shifts at Bulkeley; another four are in training, Zottola said. Last year's interns became so proficient that by the end of the school year they were able to fill in for vacationing credit union employees at Franklin's main Hartford office and its Farmington branch, Zottola said.
Because the credit union is inside the school, it's not uncommon for students to drop by during lunch to ask about the services and internships it offers.
"It's an easy way to reach out to the kids," said Jazmine Lee Rodriguez, a Franklin employee who supervises students at both the Bulkley and Weaver locations. "If we're in the school system, it's easy for them to walk in and ask questions. We can answer them."
Students are qualified to join the credit union if they attend the school, said Klempic, who is saving for college. "I just need their signature, a Social Security number and their school I.D."
The credit union also has the ability to make small loans to students.
"If they need a loan for the prom, say $250 to $500 I would be willing to take the risk," Dubay said. "I would want to see them get on a regular savings plan and see how they are going to pay it back."
Everyone needs a financial education, Zottola said.
"You have to be financially literate today," Zottola said. "If you're not, you can go under whether you're a doctor, lawyer or a teacher."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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