Kids find interest in saving; Banks: Howard pupils are learning monetary, math and people skills by running financial institutions at school.


Seven-year-old Harish Lall put a dollar in his account the other day and vowed to keep depositing money until he saved enough to buy a $2,000 laptop computer.

Getting to the bank, at least, will be easy: It's at school.

Every Friday before class, Harish and other pupils at Swansfield Elementary in Columbia deposit their coins, bills and checks in the school's bank -- an honest-to-goodness, FDIC-insured place to hand over their money. That's because Farmers and Mechanics National Bank is backing the project, and the deposits are transferred to its vaults.

The idea has caught fire in Howard County. Most of the 37 public elementary schools have part-time bank branches, with older pupils working as tellers.

More than a dozen Baltimore County schools and some Carroll County elementaries have banks, too.

Educators like the initiative because they see an opportunity for hands-on learning on topics ranging from money management and math to people skills. The school bank offers an answer to that age-old student question: "Why do I need to learn this?"

"We can teach the kids about money, and saving money, but actually using the money is more authentic," said Eileen Roberta, principal of Kingsville Elementary School in Baltimore County, which has a Thursday-morning bank.

"It's really a meaningful application of what they're learning in school," said Gerard Budzynski, principal of Sandy Plains Elementary School in Dundalk, which has a year-old Tuesday-morning branch. "We thought it was such a great opportunity because a lot of people don't have saving skills anymore."

The in-school branches are typically open for business once a week for about a half an hour. No withdrawals are allowed, though -- for that, the kids have to go to the banking institution.

The school branches have selling points.

At the 4-year-old "Beehive Savings Bank" at Manchester Elementary School, where pupils get weekly printouts of their assets, each deposit buys a chance for prizes, such as a $100 savings bond. Sponsor bank BB & T gives the school a quarter for every dollar the children save, money used to purchase books.

At Howard County's oldest school-based bank, located at Clarksville Elementary and sponsored by Sandy Spring Bank, pupils are in charge.

"The children advertise it," said Peggy Dumler, assistant principal of Clarksville Elementary, which opened its branch 14 years ago. "They do it all."

At Swansfield Elementary, pupils applied -- and were interviewed -- for the job of teller.

They work behind a wooden structure made by a community resident that looks a little like a lemonade stand -- except it has a teller's window. It has the obligatory jar of snazzy bank pencils to hand out (customers only, please).

On opening day late last month, 12 pupils deposited $251.55, ranging from coins to a $50 check.

Six-year-old Dominique Willis, a first-grader, handed over $15.65.

"I have a lot of money in my piggy bank, so my mom said I could just put it in there," she said.

Nefretari White, 8, brought in two $1 bills because she loses her money at home. "I'm trying to keep it in a safe place," she said.

Last week as children lined up to hand over their savings, pupils Evan McFarland, Meg Sawyer and Kim Stover took the money, saved the deposit slips, filled out receipts and marked everything on a record sheet. After a half-hour, they closed. Then they encountered the tricky part: Balancing the books.

They couldn't just count the money and call it a day. Instead, the pupils had to check that the money matched the deposit slips and their record sheet.

That's when Kim, 10, discovered a problem: She had $35 in deposits but the sheet and slips said $34.

"We'll take this dollar out and hold it," said Joann Olchowski, the gifted and talented resource teacher overseeing the project.

"Someone may have brought it to make a deposit and didn't have an account -- and just left it there," suggested Abby Futter, Swansfield's PTA president.

Bookkeeping is the hardest part of any teller's job, said Pam Hobbs, who manages Farmers and Mechanics National Bank's Hickory Ridge branch. But she noticed that the Swansfield pupils aren't complaining.

"They're getting more practice -- and it's actually something they're enjoying," she said. "They see this as a privilege."

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