Connecticut Kids Learn Money Smarts at Banks

A new program has some Connecticut children spending part of their school days at the bank. It's part of a national effort to teach young children how to handle money responsibly. Tandaleya Wilder from member station WSHU reports.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

More on schools now, and we'll stay in the Northeast, where, for kids in Middletown, Connecticut, this is bank day. They're bringing their weekly savings to school as part of a national program to learn about money and how to watch over it. From member station WSHU, here's Tandaleya Wilder.

TANDALEYA WILDER reporting:

At Bertrand Spencer Elementary School in Middletown, about 25 little kids armed with envelopes full of cash march single file toward the school library.

(Soundbite of beeping noise)

Unidentified Woman #1: Once again, grades K to two can go down to the banking, grades K to two to banking. Thank you.

WILDER: As the students enter the room, two parent volunteers who serve as tellers greet them. The adults are sitting behind small wooden desks that keep them eye level with their young customers. Second-grader Debra Baxter(ph) hands over one dollar and a Liberty Bank deposit slip. It's a routine she has down pat.

DEBRA BAXTER (Student): And I come to school and they call banking, and we come and then we stand in the line, and when it's your turn, you give them the money, and they count it up and put it on a piece of paper, and then they put it in the bank.

WILDER: Debra has big plans for her savings.

BAXTER: I have a dollhouse and I want to get some more people and some more stuff for inside the house.

WILDER: Parent volunteer Karen Barber(ph) says even the youngest savers know they're doing something important.

Ms. KAREN BARBER (Volunteer): Now like here's a deposit for, you know, $1.40, so they vary, and you can tell when the kids, you know, are putting in their change, and they take pride in what they bring in each week.

WILDER: Most of the kids making deposits today say they're saving up for a college education. Nine-year-old Evan Pennington(ph) has $800 deposited so far. He says he earned most of it.

EVAN PENNINGTON (Student): By sometimes like washing the car in the summer and making the beds and setting the table.

WILDER: Kids at Spencer and 390 other elementary and middle schools across the nation participate in Save for America, an independent non-profit that promotes the savings habit among children. Stephan Avena is the president of Save for America. Banks in 48 states participate, but he concedes programs targeting very young savers are not on the radar screen of most banks.

Mr. STEPHAN AVENA (Save for America): It's probably, you know, pretty easy to dismiss: kids saving and making an impact and really providing significant core deposits and, you know, helping the nation's savings rate--it sounds fanciful, but it's true.

(Soundbite of coins)

WILDER: Many financial experts believe our money handling habits are shaped at a very early age, between five and seven years old, determining whether we'll wind up spenders or savers. Ten-year-old Allejandro Colon(ph) is beaming. As a reward for making his deposit today, he gets to choose a brightly colored "Power Rangers" sticker. He's also excited about the concept of compound interest.

ALLEJANDRO COLON (10-year-old): You look at that count, you'll be, like, `All those times that I put money in, you know, it added up to all this, it's just amazing.'

WILDER: There's no hard evidence that programs like school-based banking will turn kids into lifelong savers, but with the current high rates of personal bankruptcy and low rates of savings in the US, advocates say that the lessons kids learn about saving money now could save them from financial headache and heartache when they grow up. For NPR News, I'm Tandaleya Wilder in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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