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Copyright 1998 The Seattle Times Company
Lifestyles : Saturday, October 31, 1998

School bank days teach students about money
by Cathy Reiner
Seattle Times staff reporter

The children come to school with a handful of pennies, a quarter, sometimes a couple of dollars or a check made out for a week's allowance.

It's Bank Day at Seattle's Wing Luke Elementary School, and the kids are ready. They line up first thing in the morning, eager to make their weekly deposits.

One girl brings several rolls of coins to parent-volunteer-banker Genette Taylor, who stacks them into a plastic coin counter.

"$1.32," Taylor announces. Randy Lockhart, her co-volunteer, taps the deposit into a computer and prints out a receipt.

"Your account is building, three weeks in a row," Lockhart says as he hands the girl a shiny new pencil prize. "It adds up fast."

"I'm saving for college," she says. "Maybe for Christmas, too."

For college, for gifts, for special toys or trips - these are some of the many reasons the young students give as they line up to make deposits.

These are real bank accounts, earning interest, generating quarterly mailed-home statements and teaching the kids the value of saving, says Lockhart.

"Kids and parents like this program," he says. "It's fun, and it produces real results: money."

The Wing Luke program is sponsored by the Westwood Village branch of Washington Mutual, a financial institution that has programs in more than 125 schools around the state this year, and has sponsored such programs since 1923.

"Through the years we've found that kids who start saving young get in the habit of saving regularly," said Margaret Way, Westwood Village branch manager. "Kids who understand money and save early are more likely to be savvy about budgets and finances as they grow up."

Most Seattle-area school programs are sponsored by Washington Mutual, though some other financial institutions including Columbia Bank in Auburn have banking in one or several schools.

Save for America, a Bellevue-based nonprofit foundation and a model program of the U.S. Department of Education, offers school banking online through the Internet to about 1,000 schools and 300 banks around the country and in Canada, including some in South Puget Sound.

Though any child can set up an account at most any bank, school programs are designed to make saving an easy and affordable weekly event. The Wing Luke program lets children open and maintain accounts with as little as 25 cents.

Way has heard many stories from adults who remember saving through their school years and ending up with enough money to buy bicycles or first cars, pay for college or a wedding, or take a special trip.

Saving for trips, particularly end-of-year outdoor education camps, is an effort Wing Luke principal Ellen Punyon hopes to encourage. "If every child planning to go started saving for it now, a dollar a week or whatever the family can afford, we wouldn't have to do so much fund raising in the spring."

School programs rely on parent volunteers or school staff to run bank days and make deposits at local banks. At Wing Luke, Lockhart and Taylor come every week to help the children. Lockhart provided rope and child-size stanchions to simulate a lobby, just like in a real bank.

Behind those ropes, more children line up to make their deposits.

"I bring in money so it can add up, from my newspaper route, and other things, even birthday money," says a 10-year-old boy. "If I kept it at home, in a piggy bank or something, I'd just spend it because it's around."

It's safer in the bank, a nearby child agrees, noting that with today's deposit her four years of saving totals $1,302.64. "It's supposed to be for college," she says. "But think of the things I could buy now!"

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