Illinois: Illinois Children Learn to Bank at School

January 01, 2001
Fifth-graders at Summerfield Elementary School in Summerfield, Ill., deposit money into their savings accounts during Bank at School day.

According to Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, almost two-thirds of adult Americans feel they lack the necessary skills to adequately handle their finances. Without a solid educational foundation in money matters, this group will be left out of mainstream America, she says, and such a foundation must start in elementary school classrooms.

Illinois' Bank at School program introduces elementary schoolchildren to the world of money and banking. The goals of the program are to help young people learn financial skills through hands-on experience and classroom exercises, to encourage students to develop the habit of saving for the future and to make savings accounts available and easily accessible to students. The state treasurer's office developed the program and provides interested schools with materials.

To get started, each school is matched with a bank, savings and loan or credit union. Teachers at the school teach the lesson plans; financial institution representatives are encouraged to participate with classroom instruction and host field trips.

"Bank day" occurs about once a month. With permission of their parents, students may open actual savings accounts and make deposits to their accounts, under the guidance of the sponsoring financial institution. Students are also trained as tellers, giving them an inside look at the banking process. Some schools have expanded the bank day exercise by having the students develop small businesses and by teaching them the steps taken to secure a business loan.

A majority of financial institutions also provide field trips to their local branches, giving the students a first-hand opportunity to better understand the banking system. In addition to the lesson plans and activity guides, the Bank at School program provides supplemental material from the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.

Currently, more than 200,000 students participate in Bank at School, representing more than 700 school districts and nearly 400 financial institutions statewide. Because of the success of Bank at School at the elementary level, similar programs have been developed for high school and college students, as well as adults.

The Bank at School program for high school and college students was developed with the cooperation of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Chicago. The high school program encompasses the initial Bank at School concepts but adds the components of obtaining and applying for credit. It also discusses the importance of setting up a spending plan.

The program for adults takes the Bank at School program another step, including a discussion on financial planning and investments. In addition, the treasurer's office offers information to senior citizens on how to avoid becoming victims of scams and fraud.

For more information about any of the Bank at School programs, contact the Illinois state treasurer's office at (217) 782-2211.

Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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