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Credit unions give students hands-on financial education

| Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Photo: Chris Foreman, Penn-Trafford Star Senior Matthew Senkow helps freshman Katie Raspotnik with a deposit at Warrior Cash Stash, the new student branch of the Westmoreland Community Federal Credit Union that opened in the Penn-Trafford High School cafeteria on Oct. 25. Matthew and juniors Lucas Johnson and Kaely Pockl are tellers for both the student and Harrison City branches of the credit union.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Norwin High School seniors Samantha Kelley (left) and Taylor Falzarano will work at the school's credit union when it opens for business. Portrait taken on Nov. 7, 2013.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Teller Matt Senkow, 17, helps Tanner Flock, 15, make a deposit into his account at the Westmoreland Community Federal Credit Union branch at Penn-Trafford High School.

Two Westmoreland County high schools are the first in the region to introduce in-school banking programs, initiatives that could affect students' financial literacy, an expert said.

Penn-Trafford and Norwin teamed with local credit unions to begin student credit union branches, which operate twice weekly during lunch time, offering checking accounts, savings accounts and other banking services. Leaders for each cited money management education as their goal.

Jay Sukits, a University of Pittsburgh finance professor and a former investment banker, lauded the programs as “very valuable.”

Learning by experience, as opposed to in the classroom, has a strong impact, said Michael Wishnow, the association's senior vice president for communications and public relations.

“The student branch doesn't make money,” he said. “It truly is a partnership to help kids learn. ... The personal finance and the money management is so critically important.”

The Westmoreland County programs are cutting-edge in the region, said Linda Stein, assistant vice president of business development and marketing at the Westmoreland Community Federal Credit Union.

“We're hoping that it's going to catch on, and we're going to be experiencing a lot of other schools wanting to do this,” she said.

Penn-Trafford's Warrior Cash Stash, a branch of the Westmoreland credit union, debuted last month in the high school cafeteria after the credit union approached school officials with the idea.

High school students get paid to serve as tellers and to work at other credit union branches. Interested students applied for the teller jobs, then underwent training at the credit union.

“Prior to the federal credit union working with them, the students had no idea the difference between a savings and checking account. I think it's opened their eyes,” high school Assistant Principal Greg Capoccioni said.

Norwin High School opened a branch of the Norwin Teachers Federal Credit Union in February. Credit union officials had dreamed of the program for years with a goal to teach financial literacy, credit union CEO Amy Lichwa said.

Students volunteer as tellers, and more than 50 students have signed up for accounts, according to district figures.

“We are very satisfied with how it's gone, but we want to continue to market it with the students' help and just continue to grow,” Lichwa said.

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