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Getting credit when credit’s due

Burrville students gain new appreciation for how saving money works

(Published May 8, 2000)

By SAM STRIKE

Staff Writer

Rashida Thornton is fervently saving up money for college. She meticulously counts her money and is reluctant to spend it on anything because "you never know when you’ll need it," she said.

Rashida’s only in sixth grade but is a staff member of the Burrville Student Mini Credit Union. And she has already learned a valuable lesson for the future that sometimes escapes most adults – save, save, save.

The Burrville student credit union was established in 1996 – the first of its kind in the District, said Donnie Rutledge, the credit union’s coordinator. About 200 students belong to the credit union – all of whom are part owners, as with any credit union, he said. The money in the credit union totals about $2,500 right now, he said.

Membership is open to all students, pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, in the Northeast Washington elementary school. They can keep their money in the credit union until they graduate from high school, he said.

Rutledge is the school’s technical coordinator and runs the credit union in his spare time. While it’s a lot of extra work for him, he said, parents and students are very excited about the "real life" experience that the students get.

The credit union is supervised by Rutledge and run by a student president, six student staff members, a board of directors, and a supervisory board made up of students, teachers and the school’s principal, Gwendolyn Baccus. It is sponsored by the D.C. Teachers Federal Credit Union.

Credit union members can earn 2 percent quarterly interest if they have more than $25 in their accounts. If they are close to that amount, he said, the children scrape to get that extra bit of money. They get very excited about that, Rutledge said.

Students like depositing and saving money just as much as they enjoy withdrawing it to pay for books and trips, or gifts for family members, Rutledge said.

Rutledge said the staff members are learning how to do percentages, transactions, input data, and keep up accounts. "It gives them some responsibility," he said. They use basic credit union software to keep the balances.

The president of the credit union is Tamia Allen, a fifth grader who was nominated and elected to the position last year by fellow staff members.

"Tamia has been in leadership roles since the third grade and the students notice that," Rutledge said.

Staff members have to go through a standard application process of writing an essay and being interviewed by Rutledge. He said a lot of the students want to be staff members, so they also created the board so more members could be involved in making decisions about the credit union.

Rashida said she gets experience in banking, and in helping other people, as the younger children don’t always know what they’re doing, she said, joking to fellow staff member Rosa Warren.

Rosa, also a sixth grader, said she’ll have some experience "in case I want to be a banker." She also wanted a chance to learn something outside of the classroom, she said.

Members receive quarterly statements and can make transactions when the office is open – before and after school on Wednesdays and Fridays. The students’ guardians must co-sign to open and close an account, and also sign deposit and withdrawal slips, Rutledge said.

The credit union runs a school-wide incentive program for students who improve in reading and math. They earn play money that can later be spent on gifts at an auction that the school holds. It’s not just for students with excellent grades, but rather for those who make progress.

Rutledge said that this experience will lower any anxiety the children might feel when they go to open up their own bank accounts. He said they have members who had bank accounts but closed them to save all their money in the credit union.

"It prepares them for real life," he said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator