Growing Interest : Students Learn Value of Saving at Bank’s Computerized School ‘Branch’

Times Staff Writer

If it’s Tuesday, students at Lincoln Elementary School are on their way to the “bank.”

Sofia Moreno, one of a number of students waiting in line last week to make her latest deposit--$2.25--was talking strangely for an 11-year-old. She was talking about her sudden love for work, any kind of work.

“I’ll do anything. I’ll even do housework; just anything to earn money to take to the bank,” Sofia said.

“I hate chores but I like the benefits,” chimed in Casey Bates, 8.


The benefit is money, which 123 students participating in Bank of America’s “StudentBanking"program are depositing in their saving accounts every Tuesday. The “bank” is set up in the computer room at the Lincoln campus and the students make their transactions electronically on a computer provided by Bank of America.

Lincoln, in the Paramount Unified School District, is the latest school to take part in the program, established statewide by Bank of America about three years ago. There are 141 schools with an estimated 11,000 elementary students participating, according to Rich Carraher, vice president of student banking services, who is based in San Francisco.

“This is real banking. It is not just a classroom exercise,” Carraher said.

The program teaches youths at an early age about banking, he said, “and our long-range hope is to keep them as customers.”


Carraher said he believes the Bank of America program is a novel approach because it permits youngsters to open accounts with as little as $1, uses volunteers to help with the transactions and employs computers.

“I’m not aware that any other bank (in the state) is running this type of operation,” Carraher said, noting that a number of banks had savings programs for youths until the 1960s with tellers actually handling the accounts.

A check with a number of major banks did not reveal a similar project.

(Bank of America had a student banking program from 1911 to 1964, which was run by bank tellers. Withdrawals, which could only be made at the bank, could only be done with a student’s parent present.)


Second-grader Julius Zeller, 8, opened his Bank of America student account with $1 when the program started in November. Making regular deposits ever since, he has built the account up to more than $16.

Students with signed permission slips from parents can withdraw up to $10 on their own signatures at the “school bank.” Any larger withdrawal must be made at the participating branch office in Paramount.

Not many students make withdrawals, said Lincoln Principal Olga Okell.

“Students are very frugal,” Okell said. “This program teaches them to set goals. Many are saving for different reasons. We see withdrawals for special occasions such as mom and dad’s birthdays.


“This is not an affluent school. This isn’t Beverly Hills. Of the 975 students, 700 are on the free lunch or reduced lunch program. There are a lot of single parents supporting

the family,” Okell said.

But the principal said that, despite economic hardships, the children are “earning money and saving it. We are delighted.”

Carraher estimates that there are about 60 schools participating in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties.


The bank offers the program in the Montebello Unified School District at Montebello Intermediate School for students in the fifth and sixth grades, said Joe Sweet, assistant vice president of a Bank of America branch in Montebello.

“We talk to the school district and see if they are interested. We train the volunteers. They are the ones who really make the program work,” Sweet said.

Students, who earn 5 1/2% interest and are not assessed a service charge, are saving for a variety of reasons.

Keren Ceballos said her goal is to save $30 to send to cousins in Guatemala.


“I have four young cousins. They are very poor. They can use the money,” said Keren, who was born in Guatemala and has been in this country for three years.

“I have a target date of June 19 (which is the end of school),” Keren said. She has saved $13.41 and earned 7 cents in interest, said the fifth grader with serious demeanor.

“I’m saving my money to go to college,” said a smiling Jason Beck, 8.

“I don’t know how much it will take but I want to go to UCLA,” said Jason, who has more than $50.


Total student deposits at Lincoln average about $350 a month, said Vivian Hansen, one of three volunteers who help run the program.

Trained Volunteers

The project requires that it be run by volunteers who are trained by the bank, said Sweet, the Montebello bank branch executive.

Volunteers assist the students in filling out their deposit slips. They also help the students, who use a secret password, to make transactions in the computer. The students are given computer printouts of all their transactions and entries are made in the children’s bankbook by the volunteers.


At the end of the banking day, volunteers take the money to the bank branch.

Hansen, 39, Sharon Apodaca, 30, and Keith Larsen, 60, are the volunteer bankers. Hansen and Apodaca have children attending Lincoln and are active in the school’s Parent-Teachers Organization. Larsen’s wife, Billie, is a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln. He retired less than a year ago from Arco, where he was a spare-parts coordinator at the Port of Long Beach.

At Lincoln, the program has become so popular with students that the school will ask the bank to train at least two more volunteers, said Okell, the principal.

“We are specifically interested in training bilingual parents because of our Spanish-speaking students,” Okell said.


“We haven’t had many problems. We find a few lost bankbooks on campus along with lost sweaters and books.

“But no one can get into the kids’ accounts without knowing their passwords. And no one tells their passwords,” Hansen said.

If there is one worry, it is by the students worrying about the safety of their money.

Especially the first graders.


“They wanted to know if the bank had bank guards with shotguns; would their money be safe,” Okell said.