By Melissa B. Taboada
September 16, 2010
Sporting his official lime-green polo shirt, curly-haired, smooth-cheeked 17 -year-old Oliver Benitez flashed a wide smile as one of the first customers stepped into the Connally High School branch of A+ Federal Credit Union.
Benitez, a senior, conversed with ease in Spanish with Lazaro Nuñez , a Pflugerville school district groundskeeper , and then counted out Lazaro's cash.
As a paid teller intern at the A+ branch housed within the school, Benitez is one of two students in the program getting hands-on job experience while earning credit for graduation. The Connally branch has its grand opening today but quietly opened last week to allow students to practice their skills.
Benitez and senior Erika Wright , the other intern, said having a job on campus eases transportation and scheduling challenges and gives them a career boost.
"It's pretty awesome," said Benitez, who hopes to use his skills to work his way through college. "We have a job like this to put on our college résumé."
Central Texas school districts have formed dozens of partnerships with various area employers to set up internship programs, and setting up credit unions and banks within public schools is a growing trend across the state. Banking experts say financial institutions see it as a way to extend their education initiatives while serving their members. There are more than 50 credit union branches in Texas elementary, middle and high schools. Some elementary campuses have institutions that allow students to make deposits independent of their parents.
Connally's is the second school-based credit union branch in Central Texas, the Texas Credit Union League said. A+ opened a branch at San Marcos High School when that campus was built three years ago.
Many districts are using partnerships with credit unions and banks to help meet a state graduation requirement that students take a personal finance course in high school to learn how to use credit wisely and why saving money is important.
"Credit unions and banks have done a lot of research and have found that the earlier you can get to kids with financial literacy, the better they will be as adults," said Staci Zale, associate director for the Texas Credit Union Foundation, the charitable arm of the Texas Credit Union League. "They'll have less debt and less money problems."
Having a credit union branch at Connally also serves to boost the business and information technology career academy at the school, Principal Daniel Garcia said.
School branches often have limited hours -- in Connally's case, the credit union is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- and aren't open on Saturdays. However, such branches are full service, allowing customers to open accounts, cash checks or talk with a banker. So far, the branch sees about 10 to 15 customers a day .
Connally's A+ branch has a separate, public entrance from the school, and customers do not have to submit to the criminal background checks required routinely of school visitors. Students and teachers also have their own credit union entrance that the public can't access. The school is patrolled by Pflugerville police officers.
Employees, including the high school interns, are provided security training, said Irma Longoria, a branch manager.
Students, who have limited access to account information, earn $10 to $10.50 an hour for the internship and typically work three hours, or two class periods, during the school day, and up to an hour and a half after school. They also receive three elective credits for the internship.
Students had to apply and be interviewed before being hired and received about 21/2 weeks of training, including how to handle transactions, what to do in case of a robbery and how to identify fraud.
"The job is great," Benitez said. "They trained us for everything."
Expansion of the Connally building was already in the works, so the credit union just paid the district to transform an old computer lab into the branch. The credit union does not pay the district money to lease the space or for utilities.
Connally's A+ interns received training on customer service and communication skills. An A+ supervisor is always on site and oversees the interns' transactions.
Stephen Franklin, an A+ Credit Union member for two years, said the Connally location is convenient for him because he lives and works in the area and said he doesn't mind being helped by a high school student.
"It's good for the students because they get an opportunity to work and learn," said Franklin, who stopped into the credit union during his lunch hour. "It gives them a little push for their career in the future."