In Partnership with The 74

Two LA Unified High Schools Opening Union Bank Branches

Chase Niesner | October 4, 2013



Student bankers, like these at McLane High School in Fresno, will soon be seen at two LAUSD high schools.

Student bankers, like these at McLane High School in Fresno, will soon be seen at two LAUSD high schools.

At two Los Angeles high schools, students will soon be able to meet all their banking needs right there on the school site — if they happen to use Union Bank, that is.

The LA Unified board has announced a partnership to open student-run branches at Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights and Crenshaw High School in Leimert Park as part of program to provide students with real-world financial education and work experience.

The full-service branches are scheduled to open in 2014 and will create a cadre of student bankers who will receive classroom credit for spending three hours a week running the branch as bank tellers and two hours a week in the classroom with a district teacher.

“It is a business academy, so they learn from the very beginning how to look people in the eye, shake peoples’ hands, and introduce themselves with business decorum,” Union Bank Senior Vice President Jan Woolsey said in an interview with LA School Report. “They also learn presentation skills and later in the year will actually make presentations on financial education to their classmates and sometimes their parents.”

Union Bank opened its first student-run branch in 2011 at McLane High School in Fresno. According to a press release, 30 student bankers have graduated from the McLane program and four graduates are currently employed by Union Bank in the area.

Woolsey said all students at McLane have embraced the on campus branch, even those not enrolled in the banking program.

“A lot of the young people have opened accounts by nature of the fact that the student bankers actually go into the classrooms and talk about the importance of having an account, particularly to the seniors who are about to go off to college,” he said.

Not everyone thinks this is such a great idea.

Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at Cal State Northridge specializing in urban politics and administration, said he sees the opening of the bank branches part of the increasing “privatization” of public schools so vehemently opposed by corporate reform critics like Diane Ravitch.

“Even though there are definitely some positives that could result from the partnership, it still doesn’t feel quite right, like Union Bank is getting something out of the deal as well,” Hogen-Esch said. “Corporations have the incentive to make connections with kids early in their lives; why do you think there are playgrounds at McDonalds?”

The student-run Union Bank branches are designed to provide traditional banking products and services to students, administrators and teachers. The bank is also establishing a Parents Academy at each school that will offer bilingual financial education for the parents and guardians.

“As a responsible bank, Union Bank is dedicated to increasing financial awareness within our communities, and we know that educating our youth is critical to building and sustaining strong communities for the future,” Union Bank Executive Vice President and Lincoln High alumna Leticia Aguilar said in the LA Unified press release.

Woolsey noted that the program has a 100 percent graduation rate among its student bankers thus far; the program’s 97 percent college attendance rate is far and above the McLane High School average of 30 to 35 percent as well, he said.

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