By Judy Reed
Employees and students at Creative Technologies Academy don’t have to worry about making it to the bank after school—they just have to walk across campus to make a deposit.
Last month was the grand opening of a new branch of Independent Bank at CTA—and it’s run entirely by sixth graders.
Julie Wheeler, of the Cedar Springs branch of Independent Bank, approached CTA with the idea. She said that the Sand Lake branch had been doing something similar for the last 15 years. “I went and visited them, and their school loves it,” remarked Wheeler. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s our future—we’ll do whatever we can do for our students.”
City and school officials were on hand for the grand opening, as was Dave Reglin, Executive Vice President, Independent Bank. “We are proud of Julie and the Cedar Springs team for doing this,” he said.
Wheeler and sixth grade teacher Jenny Bangma worked together on the idea. Kids had to apply for the job, then went through a training program with Wheeler. Eight students were hired—a manager, alternate, site engineer, two marketing directors, and three tellers. They work directly for Independent Bank.
“The kids seem to really be enjoying it,” said Bangma, “especially those who are employed with the bank. Julie and her team are very professional and treat the students as employees versus just students.”
The bank is open two Wednesdays a month, for an hour each time. Students in grades four through eight have been invited to open accounts, and a few faculty members have opened accounts as well. Students can make deposits freely, but must have a parental note to make a withdrawal.
“So far it’s going well,” said Bangma. “Julie and I anticipated that we would start small, with only a few students and staff opening accounts; however, the participation is continuing to grow each week!”
Bangma said she chose not to grade students on their participation in the bank. “I feel like their experiences should be as authentic as possible,” she explained. “Students were made very aware of the expectations, and they know that they could be asked to leave their post if they do not meet them. We want to build work ethic through intrinsic motivation. Julie and I communicate regularly about the progress of our student workers.”
School leader Dan George thinks the bank is a great idea. “It’s a fantastic opportunity. We are always looking to incorporate project-based learning,” he explained. “They get experience in math, personal finance, getting along with people, etc. It’s a great opportunity for kids this age.”