Elementary students get a lesson in deposits, withdrawals and saving


Fairhill Elementary students Addison Becker, center, and Alexa Marulanda, left sitting, work for the school’s branch of Sandy Spring Bank. Catherine Thong, standing left, and Rachel Hinz, right, watch them. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

At first glance, Neha Pai thought working at a bank would be boring.

“But once I started being a teller, I realized it’s really fun,” the fourth-grader said.

Over the past few months, Pai has gotten a first-hand look at the inner workings of a financial institution, thanks to a program hosted by Sandy Spring Bank at her Fairfax public school.

Every Wednesday, the Olney-based bank sets up a mini-branch in the school’s cafeteria. Between 8:30 a.m. and 9:15 a.m., students can stop by to deposit money into their accounts. Fourth- and fifth-graders serve as the bank’s tellers.

At the end of the morning, Sandy Spring Bank representatives take the deposits to a local branch, where the money is processed and added to students’ accounts. (Withdrawals, however, cannot be made at the school; students must go to a bank branch with their parents to take out money.)

“It’s a great way for kids to learn about math and for us to give back to the community,” said Nga Le, who manages a Sandy Spring branch in Fairfax. “The first thing we want students to learn is how to save.”

A number of area banks and credit unions have partnered with schools in recent years to create financial literacy programs and offer mock-budgeting scenarios. Sandy Spring Bank is one of the few that gives elementary school students a crack at managing their own savings accounts.

“We feel really strongly about giving [students] real world opportunities to learn math and economics,” said Ashley Castillo, a math teacher at Fairhill Elementary School.

The bank, which has 49 area branches, has similar arrangements with about 20 schools in Virginia and Maryland.

Parents must agree to co-sign, and a $10 deposit is required to open each account.

Last Wednesday, Rachel Hinz, 10, rounded up what was left of her birthday money and put it into her bank account.

“Usually I just deposit a few dollars, but this time I had $35,” Hinz said, adding that she was saving up to buy items for her American Girl doll.

“I like having my money in the bank,” she said. “It’s locked up and you don’t end up spending it on candy.”

Students often bring in bags of change, or $1 and $5 bills from their allowances, Castillo said.

“A lot of student show up with very small amounts,” she said. “But if they bring in some money every week, it adds up.”

Neither the bank nor the school would disclose how many students had opened bank accounts this year.

“We’ve had a slow but steady start,” Pamela Morgan, the school’s principal, said.

The school’s tellers have to go through an application process that asks them to describe their math skills and interest in banking.

Fairhill Elementary had planned to select five tellers for the school year, but student interest was so high that there ended up being four rotations of five or six tellers at a time.

“It’s hard being a teller,” said Brandon Lee, 10, who processed deposits earlier in the school year. “You have to remember so many things, like what forms you need and where to put the money.”

“And you have to add a lot of numbers,” Pai, 10, added.

Pai, who worked as a teller for a few months, has yet to open a bank account. Until now, she’s kept her money in a piggy bank.

“I have a lot in there now,” she said. “I might start an account soon.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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