By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
At the end of a hallway in Stafford High School, two senior students stand behind the counter of the Smart Financial Credit Union ready to help customers with their finances.
As the school bell rings, they see a favorite teacher walking the hall and give a vigorous wave, then respond to a customer’s request for change. From cashing checks to giving change to helping customers manage savings accounts, students Katriel Pickett and Alyssa Alvaraz have learned the ropes of banking, customer service and good communication.
They are part of an intern partnership program with Smart Financial Credit Union, Fort Bend Independent School District and Stafford Municipal School District that teaches financial literacy and financial services through student-run credit union branches operated by student interns at Stafford and Lamar Consolidated high schools.
Stafford High School branch leader Jennifer Montgomery, a Smart Financial Credit Union employee based in the schools, spent the last year with the seniors who just graduated. This summer she will recruit and train more juniors. Since she is based in the high school, Montgomery also spends time in the classroom teaching financial literacy.
“One of my favorite things is going into the classroom presenting on financial literacy. They are learning the difference between credit and debit cards, creating a budget. Going into the classrooms, it’s hit or miss. Some days the students are into it, some days the kids just have their heads down,” said Montgomery.
Both Alvarez and Pickett have been interested in finances since eighth grade when their teacher was training them to balance checkbooks. Working at the credit union they have noticed some things. Understanding privacy is important said Pickett.
“The students have to learn their personal information is private. Kids leave their receipts on the ATM. They will come in with their friends and their friends are like, how much money you got?” noted Pickett.
Some of the students have jobs and checking accounts.
“For those students we offer minor savings and smart scholar accounts for 14- to 17-year-olds. They don’t have to have a job,” said Montgomery.
“This helps them get a better idea of how to run with their finances. Some are really keeping up with it, others not so much,” noted Montgomery.
Montgomery started as a teller in the Conroe location, then spent nine years in Sugar Land. Now she is the branch team lead. When the high school branch is closed, she returns to Sugar Land to train juniors for the summer.
She said she will miss her current students. Pickett plans to travel to Tennessee where she will continue her education at either Fisk University or Tennessee State University where she will study computer science and mass communications.
Alvarez will attend the University of Texas at San Antonio where she will study real estate finance and development.
So, what has she learned during this internship?
“They teach us to plan ahead and save. I didn’t have this knowledge before,” Alvarez said.
Added Pickett, “going off to college I’m trying to save as much as possible. I know hard times are sure to follow. But to tell you the truth, sometimes I don’t care and I take out $5 for the vending machine,” said the senior.
Montgomery said the more students know, “the better they are able to make good decisions like, ‘don’t do payday loans,’” she said.
Alvarez said learning to save for college was the best message. The students also got a kick out of the videos from financial guru Dave Ramsey that the school received through a grant.
“In most schools you don’t get a lot of financial literacy. It is very limited,” said Montgomery. Stafford and Lamar high schools have a college and career center. They also push vocational schools, marketing and Money Matters classes.
“Every single thing in there is something you need to know. It’s important because I know how hard it is when you don’t have money. I don’t want these kids to make bad judgment calls because they don’t have all the options,” said Montgomery.
Financial literacy is being able to manage your money.
“You know your expenses, your income and you are able to do a budget. It gives you a better foundation so that when you are signing up for a car, you know the rate and the payments,” she said.
In an upcoming class called “Mad Money,” the students receive actual life lessons as they receive scenarios and financial profiles and are temporarily placed in situations where they have to show their thought processes and decision making skills when it comes to finances.
So what is the takeaway for students?
“You might want to slow down and think,” suggested Pickett.