Credit union opens branch inside Southeast High School

Starting this week, students at Southeast High School can open a savings or checking account, use their debit card or apply for a zero-interest laptop loan at school.

Credit Union of America's new Buffalo Branch — named for the school's mascot — is the first bank branch inside a Wichita high school.

"This evolved from a very simple request: How can we do more... to teach fiscal literacy and support financial responsibility?" said Leroy Parks, principal at Southeast.

"Four years ago, this was a dream.... Now it's very much a reality."

Parks helped dedicate the new branch Tuesday morning by swiping his new Buffalo Branch debit card through the school's ATM. The machine is at one end of Southeast's main hallway, just outside a storage closet-turned-credit union.

The branch, established through a partnership between Credit Union of America and Wichita schools, is open over the lunch hour Tuesdays and Thursdays during the school year.

It serves students and faculty but is not open to the public. The ATM can be used by anyone during normal building hours.

Two Southeast seniors, Shaundrae Franklin and Marissa Saunders, staff the high school branch. They began working at local credit union offices in June as part of a work-study program.

Lori Smith, a credit union employee and trainer, supervises the branch.

"This has taught me money management, and having those skills is very important," said Franklin, 18. "This (branch) will offer our peers an opportunity to learn about money and spend their money more wisely."

Credit Union president Bob Thurman said he hopes the branch will help students establish credit by teaching real-world skills such as balancing a checkbook and paying bills on time.

He noted programs geared specifically toward students, such as a no-interest, no-fee loan for the purchase of laptop computers.

"It's important to have the proper tools for learning. ... These no-interest loans also teach the importance of credit without any added cost," Thurman said.

Students 15 and older can open a savings account with as little as $5. Most other accounts, including checking and debit savings accounts, require a parent or guardian's signature.

Students 16 and older can start a checking account without a parent or guardian's signature if they complete an online tutorial and pass a test.

Jim Means, director of secondary career and technical education for Wichita schools, said the district has no immediate plans to expand the program to other schools.

"But we'd like to see it replicated," Means said. "This provides the real-world experience that we know is so important... for students to get a taste of what the future holds for them."