Clipper Star Bank: School-Business Partnership
by Synapse Learning Design, Andrew Epstein

The idea that middle-school students can operate their own bank, accepting deposits and withdrawals, managing savings accounts, balancing out the cash drawer, and issuing monthly reports seemed risky at first. "It was hard to imagine," says Linda Starcevitch, one of three math teachers at Amana Middle School in Amana, Iowa, who dreamed up the idea. "We spend a good part of the year getting the students up to speed on fractions, decimals, and percents. That the students would be proficient enough to run a bank seemed like a dream."


The idea that middle school students can operate their own bank seemed risky at first.

Enter Kathy Petsche, branch manager of First Star Bank in Amana. She offered the expertise the teachers needed to put the dream into motion. "Everyone at the bank is just thrilled to work with these kids. And the math teachers are amazing. You really don’t get a sense of how dedicated our public school teachers are until you work side-by-side with them," comments Petsche.

Now every Tuesday, before and after school in the computer lab, students can open a savings account and begin learning the value of saving and managing money.

The money and accounts are kept at First Star Bank, a four-block walk from the school. The students named their branch the Clipper Star Bank, incorporating both the district mascot and the local business’ moniker.

Students run a real bank

The bank is organized to resemble its adult counterpart as much as possible. Students who want to work there must fill out a job application. Selected students go through a teller training program that Petsche and the math teachers designed together. It includes learning how to open new accounts, make deposits and withdrawals, and complete paperwork, as well as a behind-the-scenes tour of the bank, including the vault – always a big hit.

In addition to student tellers, the bank also has a student board of directors. They meet regularly with the First Star Bank board, just like all the other branches do, and give reports on how many new accounts they’ve opened, how much was deposited and withdrawn, how much interest was earned, and what incentive programs they have planned to help the bank grow and be successful.
"We got off to a rocky start, but we persisted," remarks Eleanor Schrodt, another math teacher. "The cash drawer didn’t always balance out, or we would be short a few tellers, things we discovered real banks have to deal with all the time. The students learned some life skills in the process of making the bank work smoothly."

Last spring the students opened eighty new accounts and expect to open even more this fall. "We couldn’t have done it without Kathy and First Star Bank," adds Schrodt. "The students are so proud that they’re doing this successfully and by the books."

"Kids are the future of our community"

The benefits are not all with the Middle School. "These kids are the future of our community," asserts Petsche. "From a business perspective, it’s just common sense to get involved with our local schools and establish meaningful partnerships. It’s easy to give away money, but the impact is so much more long-lasting when you, as a business, get involved on a long-term basis."
School-business partnerships as exemplified by the Clipper Star project can be an extremely effective way to bring the real world into the classroom, and the classroom out to the real world. Business support in the form of money is finite. When it is in the form of time and expertise, it is priceless.


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