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PNC teaches Highland Park youth early lessons in saving

PNC Bank opens youth bank branch within the elementary school Highland Park Renaissance Academy in southeast Michigan to encourage savings.

Just a few months ago eighth grader MaKaylA Smith thought a trip to the bank had to be one of the most mundane tasks in any adult’s life.

“Whenever I went to the bank with my mom, I was always bored,” says the Highland Park Renaissance Academy student.

L-R: Ernest Parker, dean of students; Isabella Logan, 13, teller; Carmen Willingham, school leader, MaKaylA Smith, 13,  "teller"; Cassandra Hall, social worker, and Rachel Talbert, instructional coach

L-R: Ernest Parker, dean of students; Isabella Logan, 13, teller; Carmen Willingham, school leader, MaKaylA Smith, 13, “teller”; Cassandra Hall, social worker, and Rachel Talbert, instructional coach

With the help of PNC, today she has a new outlook. Through its 20500 Woodward Ave. branch, located near Eight Mile Road, PNC opened Highland Park’s first School Bank location in a small office space on Highland Park Renaissance’s second floor. Operating from a desk alongside fellow student banker Isabella Logan, MaKaylA began serving schoolmates at the kindergarten through eighth grade charter campus after an official ribbon-cutting Nov. 13.

“At first, when I heard about the bank, I said, ‘Psssh!’” recalls MaKaylA. “But now it’s pretty fun.”

For about eight years PNC has established Student Banks that allow youth to open real, cash-based savings accounts that can also be accessed at conventional PNC branches. With the cooperation of school administrators and parents, students learn savings and management skills by opening free savings accounts, making small deposits, and earning prizes for their participation in monthly “School Bank Days.” Adult staff coordinators at each school make deposits at a local branch after students have been served.

“The students seem excited about participating, especially the bankers,” says Anne Harpe, vice president and community consultant of PNC’s Community Development Banking.

Delaina Beasley, 10,  with deposit slip and PNC piggy bank

Delaina Beasley, 10, with deposit slip and PNC piggy bank

MaKaylA and Isabella spent their first “School Bank Day” accepting cash from other students and giving free piggy banks to those who opened accounts, while school and PNC staff members observed. The students were chosen as bankers based on academics, citizenship, and parental participation, says Carmen Willingham, Renaissance Academy’s principal.

“Sometimes students aren’t exposed to the importance of saving until later in life,” says Willingham. “I thought it would be great for them to participate in a real banking program.”

Willingham rewarded first-grader Nyla Falcon by matching Nyla’s five-dollar deposit as the school branch’s first customer.

Real bank manager Alison Walker congratulates new customer Nyla Falcon, 6

Real bank manager Alison Walker congratulates new customer Nyla Falcon, 6

Isabella says being a student banker is “challenging,” but educational.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the kids,” she adds.

Alison Walker, the participating branch manager, describes Renaissance’s ribbon-cutting a career highlight.

“I have been wanting to do a school bank ever since I became a branch manager,” Walker says.

Program-wise, the School Bank also offers workshops for students, parents, and staff, along with incentives and special recognition for students, including “top saver” honors. Harpe says the initiative targets low-income neighborhoods due to the trend toward using “pay-day advance” loans and other indicators of a need for money-saving skills.

Other Detroit-area schools that have hosted PNC School Banks include Walker-Winter Elementary, Detroit Service Learning Academy, and PACE Academy.

Principal Willingham says she is pleased with the outcome of opening day and expects that more students will participate through the end of the school year.

Willingham adds, “Some of the kids thought it would be play money.”

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