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Banking on education

Learn to Earn program teaches children the value of saving money
By: Megan Wood The Press-Tribune
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Thanks to the tooth fairy, second-grader Mari Raimundo is $5 richer, but out a tooth. Instead of spending it on candy or toys, Mari has brought the money to school to deposit into her savings account she has opened through Umpqua Bank’s Learn to Earn program. One of 94 schools participating in California, Blue Oaks Elementary School in Roseville began hosting LTE three years ago when parent volunteer Lori Quinn discovered the program on the bank’s Web site. After presenting it to the principal and parent teacher club president, Quinn volunteered to head the Blue Oaks program. “I think it’s a valuable program in that the children have control over their finances,” Quinn said. “It teaches them a life skill that they can start in kindergarten and apply throughout their education.” The Learn to Earn program began in 1996 in Humboldt County by Sarie Toste, a school superintendent who heard children on the playground talking about money. “She saw a need for students to learn about saving,” said Sarie’s daughter and Learn to Earn program director Colleen Toste. “Umpqua, which was at the time Humboldt Bank, was a community bank that was looking to do more in the community so it became a really unique partnership.” When a school opts to host the program, Umpqua representatives visit classrooms to give presentations to the students on the value of saving money. “We’ll ask the kids, if sometimes when they ask their parents for things, they get told ‘no’” Colleen Toste said. “A lot of kids don’t realize that if they save their money, they can buy the things that they want on their own.” The representatives also help children come up with ideas on how to make money by doing chores at home or recycling. Older students get lessons in budgeting for bigger-ticket items like how to budget their money for a car over a span of several years while still paying for expenses like a cell phone or entertainment. To open a savings account, students are required to have at least a dollar. But if a child doesn’t have the money Colleen Toste said Umpqua will give the student a dollar to open their account. After that, deposits can be made from a single penny to several dollars. “It was important to my mom that this be available to all children,” Colleen Toste said. “We’re just as proud of the kids that deposit a penny as we are of the kids who deposit a dollar, just the fact that they’re learning to save makes us proud.” Incentive programs are also an important aspect to the Learn to Earn program to encourage children to continue saving and to show that saving money can be fun. Small toys like erasers or stickers are often given to children upon making their deposits. Occasionally, Umpqua officials will add an extra dollar to the child’s account if they make a deposit during a set time frame as an incentive to continue saving. “Kids need that instant gratification or a reward sometimes to make it a habit otherwise they don’t see a reason to do it,” Colleen Toste said. Children who open an account through the Learn to Earn program are given a vinyl moneybag for their backpack, a kid-sized record book to keep track of their deposits, a pencil and a quarter card for spare change. “We were able to work closely with the bank on this program to tailor it for our customers,” Colleen Toste said. “We’ve also taken it to middle schools but instead of setting up a table that kids might be hesitant to walk up to, we’ve installed drop boxes.” According to Colleen Toste the program has also gotten positive reviews from parents who recognize that saving money and budgeting skills aren’t taught in the classroom, but in real life experiences. Blue Oaks principal Jeff Ancker has only been at the school for a year, but he has seen the success of the program firsthand. “I’ll see kids that say, have damaged a library book and they’ll take the money to pay for it out of their savings accounts,” Ancker said. “It’s a life lesson that they may not get in school.” Judging by the numbers, the students love it too. Blue Oaks Elementary School started its Learn to Earn program in November 2006 and has 86 accounts. Across town in Rocklin, Valley View Elementary has 222 student-savings accounts, the most of any school in California. Many of Blue Oaks students, like Mari, are regular customers of the twice-monthly banking program and show up every deposit day. Over the years they have accumulated substantial balances that some will use for a special toy, while others like 9-year-old Alex Clinkscales has her sights set further in the future. With $5 in hand, she said with a shy smile, “I’m saving for college.”