By LINDA LOBECK
KINGSFORD - Students in the business program at Kingsford High School are getting a chance to put some of their learning into a real life experience with the opening of a school branch of the Iron Mountain-Kingsford Community Federal Credit Union (IMKCFCU).
The key players working on setting up the opening of the Kingsford High School Credit Union include in front from left Lorie Pirkola, KHS business teacher; Sonya Nelson and Larry Hoya, of the Iron Mountain-Kingsford Community Federal Credit Union. The KHS students that will staff the school branch, in back from left, are Kayla Meier, Lauren Smith, Whitney Wender, and Danielle McConnell.
The four students selected through an application and interview process will be working as employees of the credit union as they deal with customer transactions, do necessary computer work, and also become involved in the marketing of this new branch.
Training, logo design, and learning about the regulations governing a credit union are some of the activities these student employees have been undergoing during the past couple of weeks. And it all leads up to the opening day of the Kingsford High School Credit Union on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
"This is an educational partnership between KHS and the credit union - an initiative that started once the credit union contacted us to see if we were interested in having a school branch. It really works well with the business program at KHS and involves the students," said Lyle Smithson, principal at KHS.
Credit union and school officials have had a couple of meetings to put together the game plan - ensuring that this is a successful program.
The KHS branch will be located in a separate room on the first floor of the high school. The credit union will be open two days a week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the two lunch hours. It will be open to the general public.
"We want to provide a sound educational experience for students. It's been a positive experience and we have four good representatives of KHS that will be working in the branch," Smithson added.
Sonya Nelson of the IMKCFCU noted that the credit union sponsors a financial literacy program that all local schools can take use.
"Kingsford High School is on top when it comes to taking advantage of this program and putting it into their curriculum. The logical next step was to get the kids involved through this branch - the first one we've opened," Nelson said. "These four girls were selected for this real job experience to work with the credit union at this branch."
She added that the students had to go through an application process, interview, and math test before being selected - similar to what someone applying for a job at the credit union goes through. With this experience, the students can take what they learned about applying for a job into life outside of school.
"It's a full encompassing experience that involves setting up the branch, working at the branch, and doing the marketing for the branch. They have come up with their own logo and jingles to market their product. This is a groundbreaking program between students and the credit union," Nelson said.
Lorie Pirkola, business teacher at KHS, is clearly excited about this opportunity for her students.
"It's very rewarding to have a setting in the school where students can get real life experience in business," Pirkola said.
"They can learn about it in class, but this shows them what happens in the business world. They can learn how to market a product, how to complete business transactions and communicate with people. We already use the information from the credit union program, Making Right Money Moves, and now they can see how it really works," she said.
Larry Hoya, who does marketing for the IMKCFCU, agrees that this is an exciting program.
"The real life experience in establishing this branch at the school will provide them with a great learning experience," Hoya said. "They will be using the same services and products that members get at the main credit union office."
Students hired for the positions at the Kingsford High School Credit Union are Lauren Smith, Whitney Wender, Danielle McConnell and Kayla Meier.
Lauren was excited about the opportunity with the credit union, noting that is different than the jobs that most 16-year-olds can get at restaurants and grocery stores.
"With this opportunity, we'll get more of a taste for what grown-up work is like. It will be a challenge for us and a better experience," Lauren said.
"It gives us an idea of what we can do and can lead on to summer internships and some experience to put on college applications," she said.
Nelson noted that each of the KHS students involved with the branch will receive a letter of reference from the credit union that they can take with them when they pursue future job opportunities.
She added that the branch can be utilized by students, teachers and other staff as well as the community. They just have to follow the usual procedure of getting a school pass from the principal's office when they enter the building.
Plans are also being made to have a special day where someone can open a new account at the credit union.
"It's more time consuming and involves more paperwork, so we will do it on special days. It will be advertised and marketed by the students once we decide when it will be held," Nelson said.
Lauren sees this KHS branch as being convenient for students and staff to use during the school day and eliminating the need to run and get money or cash checks after school.
"It will make it easier for them and now something they can do during their lunch hour. They don't even have to leave the building," Lauren said.
Danielle said that the response from other students concerning the branch opening has been positive.
"They think it's cool that there will be a branch of the credit union at the school," she said.
And it's been the same response from the staff, Smithson said.
"I've talked to everyone at staff meetings about it and the overwhelming response has been positive," he said. "It will be a convenience for our staff and students and very easy for them to use during their prep time or lunch. The toughest part was to narrow it down to these four students. And these girls are very positive and excited about being involved."
"I feel this will be a very valuable experience for all of us," Lauren said.
Smithson added that they have already have had some experiences that have taught them valuable skills including how to apply for a job and interview.
"It's a real growth period for these students," he said.
Danielle noted that she has already completed her first day of training at the credit union. She found using the computer to do transactions is similar to using online banking. She spent a lot of her training time becoming familiar with the software that they use.
"The hardest part is having them read and learn all the policies that need to be followed including what to look for on a check before you cash it. It's something that people take for granted and there are so many different things they need to learn about when doing these transactions," Nelson said.
The four student employees will rotate among the different responsibilities at the KHS Credit Union including doing transactions, completing computer work, and working on marketing. And the students will always be working with a credit union support person.
Right now, they are training with senior tellers at the credit union, who bring a lot of different experiences to share and ways of doing things.
Nelson stressed the importance of learning member service skills.
"Customer service is a top priority and something we want to provide to each of our members," she said.
She added that when interviewing each girl for the job she asked them to define confidentiality - another top priority for the credit union.
"This is extremely important with the credit union and our members' information," she said. "Each girl gave me an excellent definition of confidentiality and we talked about it in the interview and training."
In the room where the branch will be located, a carpenter is currently working on making a kiosk for the teller station. There will be a lobby area when people come into the branch, an area where the laptop computer is set up, a supervisor's desk and a creative desk where the students can work on marketing.
So far, they have come up with a logo that Hoya will take and have put on a banner for the school credit union branch. The girls have also come up with a couple of jingles - "Drop in the Kingsford Credit Union at lunch A or lunch B, it's money at your convenience, just stop in and see," and "11 to 1, come make your money run, a quick visit and you'll be all done."
The marketing is for use in school as well as the websites for both the high school and credit union.
Behind the scenes, the technology staff at the school and credit union have been working together to ensure that the security is in place at the branch.
"It's been a great experience for us - working with this generation of members. Through them, we can learn and find out what this generation is looking for from the credit union," Nelson added.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.