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At Gator Savings, the students push the financial buttons

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

More than just money is being deposited at Gator Savings.

The branch of Woodstone Credit Union is designed to train students at Decatur High School for the workforce and teach them about money.

Two to three days a week, Gator Savings –– named after the school’s mascot –– opens its window for students and staff to deposit money or make a withdrawal. All that’s needed to open an account is $25 and have some association with King County –– live, work or worship is the credit union’s basic criteria.

Ryan Taylor, a sophomore, works behind the counter for 30 minutes during one of the school’s three lunch periods. Gator Savings is right off the cafeteria area. Students stand in lines to get a meal, and a few stop to visit with Taylor or tell him they’re glad the branch is open.

The high school branch isn’t open the first couple of months in the school year because the credit union waits until students get settled into their classes, said Diane Childs, Woodstone’s marketing director.

Once students have finished transferring their classes around, the credit union works with the business academy class to find tellers for the school year. After a field trip to the credit union and time spent talking about basic financial matters, the financial institution takes students interested in becoming tellers and puts them through a 10-hour class on working as a teller, learning customer service and what it means to work in a financial world. Students don’t get class credit.

Taylor thought the work experience would be good for him and his resume after taking the field trip to Woodstone’s branch. He handles deposits, withdrawals, loans and enters transactions into the computer. No major mistakes on his watch, Taylor reported –– just a few hiccups, but nothing that couldn’t be easily solved.

Woodstone employees, like Stephanie Dickison, supervise Taylor and the other students.

In a country and time when more people are declaring bankruptcy, putting less into savings and businesses are developing more ways for consumers to spend their dollars, Woodstone’s High School Credit Union Program - Gator Savings and a sister branch at Federal Way High called Eagle Credit Union - is one of two in the Puget Sound region. There are five like it in the state.

“It’s all about financial education,” Childs said.

Childs estimates that together Federal Way High and Decatur have had about 125 students go through the program and become certified tellers since the program started in 1995. The certifications are given at the end of the year after completing the 10 hours of training and 10 hours working at the branch. A few alumni have gone on to become full-time employees with the company.

During the year, Woodstone employees also give guest lectures to the business academy students on money matters from establishing and having good credit to what dividends are and taxes.

“I love having the program here,” said Geri Lee, the business academy teacher.

The students talk highly of the training they get, she said.

Taylor, well-spoken and self-confident, is not sure if he will continue working at the credit union next year, it depends on his class schedule.

Whether he does or not, Childs said the experience will make him stand out compared to his peers when prospective employers are reviewing work experience. Financial institutions love hiring tellers who are certified, Childs said, because it means little training is needed to have them start working.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@kvnews.com

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