Innovative School/Business Partnership
Community First CU and the Appleton Area School District have been working together since 1996 on a collaborative effort to address a lack of financial literacy among young people in Wisconsin and nationwide. This innovative school/business partnership led to the development and introduction of a unique education program to provide ongoing financial education and hands-on learning opportunities for district students.
In March 2001, CFCU opened its first in-school, student-run credit union branch at Appleton West High School. Since then four other school branches have opened and CFCU has worked closely with AASD staff to develop and support a personal financial management class that has since become a graduation requirement, striving to empower students to improve their economic standing through better money management and wise financial decisions.
Student-run credit union branches
The initiative, which includes a CFCU branch supervisor at each site, was focused at the high school level at the outset but has since filtered down to include student employees at the middle school (since 2012) and elementary school level (since 2009) as well. The Appleton North HS branch opened in 2002 and Appleton East HS branch in 2003. Today, CFCU staff members continue to supervise students at the three high school branches along with branches at Badger Elementary School and Kaleidoscope Academy.
All the branches are located in or adjacent to the school lunchroom/commons for convenience for students who choose to become CFCU member/owners. The Badger Elementary branch, which is open during the lunch hour on Tuesday, and the Kaleidoscope branch, which is open during lunch on Tuesday, allow students to make deposits into savings accounts that encourage saving money at a young age. Both are open from the end of September through mid-May.
At the high schools, where the branches are open at least three hours during lunch hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday from the start of school in September through the end of May, students and staff can make deposits but also cash checks and withdraw money from their accounts.
Developing key life skills
All five branches offer students, who fill out applications and go through interviews to be selected for the teller positions, a realistic work experience where they learn financial management and marketing skills. Students working in the high school branches are paid Community First employees.
The partnership between Community First and Appleton schools has helped many students grow and develop skills they will use for years. The student tellers not only learn the basics of counting money, the importance of saving and finances, but they also learn life skills they will be able to take with them in the future.
Craig Gloudemans, CFCU accounting manager, knows first-hand the value of the in-school CFCU branches. In 2000-01, Craig's senior year at Appleton West, he interviewed for and was chosen to work in our first high school credit union branch. It helped focus his college plans and future career. “I remember that the interview was scary but a great experience,” Craig said. “Personally I grew by leaps and bounds by this partnership. I definitely gained confidence in myself.”
‘Priceless' work experience
Craig highly recommends that students consider working at the in-school CFCU branch. “Real life experience as a high school student is priceless and is a building block that can be applicable to you right away,” he said. “The employees at CFCU are people that care about people and the community and these are qualities that everybody and every company strive to have.”
Cindy Moua, a 2013 Appleton East graduate who worked two years at the in-school branch, had a similar experience. “Community First Credit Union is not just a work place, it is like a family,” she said. “We learn together, we work together, and we are all one big part of a community. When you take your job seriously you will learn new things and be able to look at things differently, you will have a lifetime of friends and you will always have the work experience.”