Area residents can now take care of their personal finances while helping the next generation learn financial literacy at a new bank staffed by Richardson ISD students.

In partnership with Dallas-based Credit Union of Texas, the district opened a fully functioning bank branch on the Lloyd V. Berkner High School and STEM Academy campus Sept. 12. The partnership is designed to bring more financial services to the community and help give students the knowledge and skills they’ll need for success after graduation. It will also add to the campus’s in-house STEM Academy that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math education.

“Our hope is that students experience what it’s like to work in the banking and finance industry,” said Creighton Bryan, RISD executive director of career and technical education, via email. “We want them to put into practice what they have learned to refine the real-world knowledge and skills needed to gain and sustain employment after high school.”

The bank is called a SMART Branch, which is named for its focus on servant leadership, motivation, active learning, reasoning and technology. Students from the career and technical education program will accept deposits, process withdrawals and open accounts. It includes a lobby, offices, a classroom and an ATM.

RISD Director of Community Engagement Carrie Thomas said having students working in a functioning bank will help instill a sense of responsibility in the workers while interacting with customers’ finances. It will also help give students a leg up on future college and job applications.

“Richardson ISD wants each one of our students ... to lead productive and successful lives,” Bryan said. “Financial literacy equips our students to make decisions that will directly impact their future.”

Student workers were selected based on things such as their academic record, communication skills and customer service mindset, Thomas said. They will receive a $1,000 scholarship earmarked for future educational needs for each year of work.

Because the branch is run in part by students, it is open from 9 a.m.-4:20 p.m. during the academic calendar. And to ease any concerns from customers about their finances, CUTX Chief Retail Officer Courtney Coss said student workers will undergo the same training as any other employee. Plus, they’ll be overseen by an on-site CUTX manager and Berkner CTE teachers.

To address safety, Thomas said the branch has a separate entrance and will be patrolled by Richardson police and school resource officers.

“Like any ... branch, checks and balances will be in place,” Thomas said.

Teaching finances

Coss said the project will aid in closing the “widening gap in financial literacy” among students.

The RISD SMART Branch is the first in Dallas County and joins two other permanent locations in Allen High School and Little Elm High School. Coss said CUTX will consider opening more in the future.

“The goal for our SMART branches is to provide students with the financial resources and education that will prepare them for life,” Coss said.

Teaching financial literacy in high school has been a growing trend. According to nonprofit Next Gen Personal Finances’ 2022 State of Financial Education Report, nearly 23% of U.S. high school students have guaranteed access to personal finance courses, up from a little over 16% in 2018. However, the report notes that just over 2% of Texas high school students had access to these courses, with students of color, economically disadvantaged students and those in urban areas lacking access the most.

According to the Texas Education Agency, RISD has more than 37,000 students across 55 campuses. About 70% of those are students of color, and nearly 56% are considered economically disadvantaged.

On Measure of Academic Progress exams, which were administered in January to test readiness for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, about 50% of RISD students met their growth projections in math. Overall, the district received a B rating from the TEA in the areas of STAAR performance, college and career readiness, and graduation rates.

“The students interning with the SMART Branch will be engaged in preparing for and earning specialized industry-based certifications to further enhance their experience,” Bryan said.

Preparing for the future

Having students make real-world connections and learn financial literacy is part of the goals RISD officials’ established for preparing them for post-graduation life. In June 2022, the board of trustees updated the district’s graduate profile for the first time in about a decade.

Meant to be a description of the attributes graduates need for future education or employment, the graduate profile includes financial literacy, critical thinking/problem solving, effective communication and real-world connections as components. Those •are all things Bryan said students will get by working in the branch.

“Prospective employers and college admissions will place value on students who ... worked at an accredited financial institution,” Bryan said.

Bryan said by teaching financial literacy in a hands-on setting, the SMART Branch will also help equip students to make future personal financial decisions—something supported by a report from public policy nonprofit Brookings Institute, which stated teaching financial literacy to teenagers is positively correlated with asset accumulation and net worth by the time they reach the age of 25.

“If we can set students up for success, ... they’ll have an advantage that will continue to pay dividends,” Coss said.