By SCOTT MERZBACH Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2013
HADLEY — In five years, when she plans to visit China as an eighth-grader, Aine Doherty says she will have enough money saved up to enjoy her visit to the Pacific Rim.
Fellow third-grader Odin Moore says he is putting money he earns from allowance into his account for future purchases.
“I know I will eventually have money to buy things I want to buy,” Odin said. “Like a new bike and stuff like that.”
Aine and Odin, both 9, are among students at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School participating in what is known as the Savings Makes “Cents” program.
The statewide program, featuring a curriculum developed by the state treasurer’s office, partners with more than 170 financial institutions and takes place in 400 schools across the state.
The Hadley school, through a partnership with Florence Savings Bank, is showing children good money-management habits and helping them with skills, such as balancing a checkbook.
“Financial literacy is extremely important,” said Elaine Massey, a retail banking assistant who coordinates the program for Florence Savings. “This will help them as they get older teach them good savings habits. The whole idea is to get them to save on a regular basis.”
As with the other 16 schools in Hampshire County participating with Florence Savings, including elementary schools in Amherst, Northampton, Hatfield and Willamsburg, the program takes place before the school day starts and depends on interested parent volunteers to sustain its viability.
“It really is a self-sufficient program,” Massey said.
At the Hadley school on Fridays, children participating in the program enter the school building, some with their parents, and immediately head to a table where three adults act as tellers. On this week, Cathy Cantin, an employee of the bank, along with parent coordinator Lisa Gustavsen and parent volunteer Cliff Holt, take in the money.
Many of the students hold a small money bag to secure the bills or coins they are depositing. They have also completed a deposit slip with the amount they plan to put in, and a Savings Makes “Cents“ booklet with their name and account number.
The intent is to make the exercise as realistic as possible, Massey said.
“We try to make it just like you’re going into a bank,” Massey said. “This is getting them to really learn what banking is all about.”
The program offers flexibility so that if a child only wants to deposit a nickel each week, that would be fine, Massey said.
Gustavsen said her sons, Odin and Gunnar, 6, look forward to making the weekly deposit.
“To bring it here and save is really important for them,” Gustavsen said.
“I have a lot of fun doing this,” Odin said.
“We get to learn about money and deposits,” Gunnar said.
Odin said he handed the money and deposit slip to Cantin.
“She checked it and then she gave me receipt and a deposit slip for next week,” Odin said.
The children write down their deposit amounts in the booklet and get two stickers to affix to show that the deposit is complete.
Gustavsen, of Amherst, said she is assisting in the coordination because money management is important.
“It’s been my personal interest in having them learn more about money,” Gustavsen said.
The bank works to ensure children remain involved even when the program may seem mundane. Part of this is through the handing out of stickers. And when a deposit booklet is filled, a blue ribbon is awarded. Once a month, the bank brings in what it calls a “treasure chest” with trinkets for the students.
“It’s to keep them interested in banking,” Massey said.
Kathleen Wang, the principal at the charter school, appreciates the opportunity for students at the school.
“We’re happy to have the Savings Makes ‘Cents’ program,” Wang said. “The students love bringing in their deposits and it’s a great program for teaching students about saving.”
Gustavsen said the program is explained to parents and children on the school’s orientation day and between one quarter and one third of students become participants.
Jeff Doherty of Hadley, whose daughters Aine and Maeve, 7, are both participating, said the program has been welcome at his house.
“I appreciate that it’s a good way for them to learn about savings,” Doherty said.
This is the fourth year Aine has been part of it.
“This is a great opportunity to develop the skills of saving money,” said Dave Allen, of South Hadley. “It gets them in the habit at an early age.”
His son, Bennett Allen, 7, likes collecting the stickers and items from the treasure chest.
“It’s pretty good. We do a lot of fun stuff.” Bennett said.
As part of the realism, Gustavsen said that children get a monthly statement in the mail, even during the summer. Children can match up the account, which earns interest, to their own deposits.
“It’s up to the parents to work with them to use the books to balance the accounts,” Massey said.
Holt’s sons, John and Jim, both 10 and in fourth grade, have been part of the program since it was introduced at the school.
“It’s an added activity for them to participate in,” Holt said.
That the bank comes to a school works for the busy schedules of parents who might not be able to bring their children to the bank.
“It’s wonderful that Florence comes here, that’s a big time-saver for us,” Holt said.
Second graders will make a field trip to the bank in April, getting to see the inside workings there including the bank vault, view displays of old money and do some activities.
“Second-graders look forward to that as their annual trip,” Massey said.