Student bankers
By LAURA KENNEDY , Middletown Press Staff

PORTLAND -- Children brought envelopes filled with money to school Tuesday morning to make their first deposits into the school savings account.
The envelopes were given to the classroom teachers at Guildersleeve School and transported to the school office, where Lori Caruso, co-chairwoman of the school banking program and member of the Parent Teacher Organization, picked them up. She then deposited the money at the Portland branch of Liberty Bank.

Caruso said she was planning to return today to give students receipts for their first transaction of the year, which the students will enter into their passbooks. Monthly, the students will receive statements from Liberty Bank, the local partner with the Save for America program.

While learning a lesson in math, students also learn a lesson in responsibility, Caruso said.

"They're learning math skills and the benefits of banking," she said.

The savings account program is not new to the school, said Principal Bill Grimm. It has been going on for several years. "I think it's great," Grimm said. "It helps to promote savings and putting some money away."

Save for America, an independent non-profit organization based in Washington state, was formed in 1980, said Stephan Avena, president of the organization. The program was federally funded from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, but now banks pay fees to participate. Each year, 150 financial institutions and in between 750 and 1,000 schools are involved nationally, Avena said. Last year, children in the program saved $1.55 million, he added.

Liberty Bank -- serving central, eastern and shoreline Connecticut -- carries approximately 9,000 accounts from students at 55 schools, said Sue Murphy, of Liberty Bank's Marketing office in Middletown.

The students receive a better interest rate on the school savings account than with a premium savings account. Murphy said the interest rate from this past week on a school savings account was 1.76 percent and the annual percentage yield was 1.78 percent, while the figures for a premium savings account were 1.04 percent and 1.05 percent, respectively.

The program is optional to students in the school for third-graders through fifth-graders. Nearly half of the 400 students are involved in the savings program, Caruso added.

A 9-year-old boy in fourth-grade said he planned to make more frequent deposits into his account because it's convenient and there are good interest rates. He started by adding $10 to his account Tuesday.

"I used to deposit every two months, now I'm going to try to do it every Tuesday," he said.

The boy's name can not be used because of a school policy requiring anonymity.

Another 9-year-old boy said he made an initial deposit of $75 and his goal is to save $100.

One parent, Laurie Webster, whose daughter Brianne is in the third grade at the school, encouraged her daughter to enroll.

"It's a good learning experience for her math skills and to learn about saving," Webster said during a phone interview Tuesday evening.

Brianne, 8, is planning to save for something special, and at the moment has her eyes on a Cherished Teddies figurine.

"My mom talked me into (participating)," said Brianne, who has saved $7 so far. "I don't save money very well."

The students can only make deposits through the school, but they can make withdrawals at Liberty Bank. Students can start a new account or transfer an existing account into the program.

"Once they're set up, this account's set up for life," Caruso said.

School officials seeking more information about the Liberty Bank/Safe for America program can call Sara Guild at (860) 704-2135.

ŠThe Middletown Press 2005