Written by The Business Journal Staff
Clovis Unified celebrated the newest addition to its Career Technical Education (CTE) program at a ribbon cutting in late September for an Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU) branch located on the Clovis West High School campus.
The Clovis West branch allows students in Clovis Unified School District’s new Career Technical Education banking and finance pathway to gain hands-on experience working in a bank. More than 20 students are enrolled in the pathway, which includes traditional English and mathematics courses applied to the field of banking and finance as well as the real-world banking component in collaboration with EECU.
Learning Director Karen Boone said students in the program are divided into three separate two-hour blocks. Students in the later morning and afternoon block courses —equivalent to third and fourth or fifth and sixth period — split so that some classmates work in the credit union one week and others receive classroom instruction, and then they switch. Students in the smaller morning class, however, receive one hour of classroom time and spend one hour in the bank each day, as EECU does not open until 9 a.m.
In the classroom, Boone said students learn everything from how to manage personal finances to how the stock market works. In the bank, students learn how to interact with customers and apply their accounting skills when conducting transactions. Marketing and entrepreneurship are also emphasized in the pathway, though Boone said the entrepreneur aspect of the program will be built upon in future years as more students express interest. Students from all high schools in the district are welcome to participate, although all the students enrolled this year are from Clovis West.
The idea for the program was conceived in 2007, Boone said. At that time the district applied for Career Technical Education grant funds, but the project was waitlisted. Rather than spend matching funds needed to secure the $1.5 million grant, the district reserved its funds with the banking and finance pathway in mind. Then, three years ago, the district was awarded the grant and given the nod to move forward.
“There is an energy academy at Buchanan, a construction trades program at Clovis High and a farm at Clovis East, and what was missing was this banking and finance component. so that is what we decided would work well for Clovis West,” Boone said.
According to Jim Lowe, the director of marketing for EECU, this is the 17th branch for the local credit union and the first with student employees. The partnership, he said, is beneficial for EECU as well as the students.
“We’re local and education is in our DNA,” Lowe said. “Anything we can do to give back to the community in a way that allows students to learn about personal finances and become better prepared for the future is great. It’s important because those students will contribute to our community later.”
Lowe said an experienced branch manager and select EECU employees oversee the students and provide training. They also ensure operations run smoothly throughout the day. The branch, he said, operates just as any other. The only difference, he said, is the ATMs hours are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. only to maintain safety on campus.
While the branches official grand opening was Thursday, Lowe said students began training before school started in August so they could assist customers on day one of the EECU’s soft opening, which coincided with the first day of classes.
“The first day we opened, we processed a lot of members and were actually making loans that day so it got up and running from the very beginning,” he said.
The students—all junior and seniors—are held to the same high quality standards as EECU employees, Lowe said.
“The employees act as mentors and the students go through full training as if they were an employee,” Lowe said. I think that makes them better prepared for other occupations and work, hopefully for potential jobs while they go through college and whatever life brings them. Part of our intent is for students to build confidence in their skills by practicing them in a business setting, learning to act professionally and to communicate with members. They are expected to provide the same level of customer services as any of our employees.”
Upon graduation, Lowe said students who choose to go to school locally or stay in the area have a leg up on the competition when applying for banking positions at EECU.
“Does it make them more likely to be eligible for employment later? Of course,” Lowe said. “All the training and prep is great, plus we get to know them too.”
As EECU continues to grow, more opportunities will be available to successful students.
“This last year EECU reached a few milestone numbers,” Lowe said. “We exceeded 250,000 members and we exceeded a point where we have lent out more than $1 billion dollars in the community when you encompass all five counties we’re in.”
The inaugural banking and finance course has 22 students.
Student Giovanny Hernandez said it’s been a fun learning experience so far.
“I’m getting a better understanding of how the adult world works and I’m getting an opportunity that many students don’t get,” Hernandez said.
Clovis West is the first high school campus in the Central Valley to have a full-service credit union on campus that is partially run by students. Fresno Unified’s McLane High School has a student-run branch of Union Bank, but it only offers select banking services to students, faculty and administrative staff, whereas the Clovis West EECU provides the same services as any other EECU to all its members.