School bank

First National Bank employees take deposits from Johnson Elementary School students on bank day. First National has established school banks at several Limestone County schools as a way to stress the importance of saving to young students.

A recent report by nonprofit American Public Education Foundation notes nearly every school system in the country fails to properly educate children in the areas of personal finance and decision-making.

The inaugural report, Vision 2020 Financial Literacy Report Card, 2019-2020,” gave Alabama and its neighbors, Tennessee and Georgia, a “C” grade. Mississippi received a “D.”

As a means of educating children early about the value of saving money and how banks work, First National Bank is creating school banks at schools in Limestone County. A new bank will open Tuesday at Brookhill Elementary School in Athens.

Savannah Bentley, marketing assistant with First National Bank, said the program is now in its second year. A pilot bank was established last year at Cedar Hill Elementary School, but 12 schools now have banks. Local schools with banks include Johnson Elementary School, Blue Springs Elementary School and Athens Bible School. Other school banks are in Giles and Lincoln counties in Tennessee.

“We're trying to teach (students) that saving is what matters in the long run,” Bentley said. “It's financial education, but it's also a cute program.”

About the program

Prior to establishing a school bank, First National hosts an assembly at the school so parents and school officials can learn more about the program. If a parent allows his or her child to enroll, First National establishes an account in the child's name.

Each school has a special teller window and First National Bank employees will visit a bank every few weeks to collect student deposits. On deposit day, a student can come before the school day begins to make a deposit into his or her account.

There's no minimum deposit requirement, and each student who makes a deposit receives an award. Students who don't miss a school bank day are eligible to receive an additional prize at the end of the year.

Although all First National's school banks in Alabama are at elementary schools, there is one bank at a high school in Fayetteville, Tennessee. The bank has also developed a Financial Cents program for high schools. The program has four focus areas — Earn, Spend, Borrow and Save & Invest.

“It's just basics to prepare kids who will go from high school to a career on how to manage their paycheck and retirement planning,” Bentley said.

'A growing epidemic'

David Pickler, a wealth adviser who also serves as executive director of the American Public Education Foundation, said financial illiteracy is “a growing epidemic.” He said the country is sinking into a “sea of debt” and financial dependency.

“We have created a collective culture where it is acceptable to pursue bankruptcy as a solution to irresponsible financial behavior and decision making,” he said. “Each of us has a responsibility to change this culture, to become accountable partners in preparing our children to make sound financial choices or face the consequences that will undermine America's future and threaten our economic and national security interests."

To read the full report, visit https://www.vision2020reportcard.org. To learn more about the First National School Bank program, call any of the bank's 11 branches.

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