Bank helps kids avoid ‘danger zone’

5th-graders at Griffin School collect earnings for achievements, use them to pay their debts

lpemberton@theolympian.comDecember 3, 2012 

Griffin School fifth-graders Abiola Tchala and Samantha Janovitch waited patiently in line with their deposit slips and other paperwork at the Grizzly Savings & Loan on Thursday.

“I like how it’s not real money, but it looks like checks — and we get our own little checkbooks,” said Abiola, 10.

“I think it’s cool that we get to learn how to actually write checks,” added Samantha, 10.

Teachers and parents opened the educational “bank” for Griffin’s 75 fifth-graders Nov. 20. It is slated to operate through the end of the school year.

Each month, students earn a $400 pretend paycheck for attendance. They can earn additional “money” to deposit during the school week for other accomplishments, such as getting perfect scores on tests, demonstrating good behavior and being prepared for class, said Griffin language-arts teacher Suzanne Stottlemyre.

But they also have to budget for bills they incur each month.

“They have to pay rent for their desks, and for their books and technology,” Stottlemyre said. “It all adds up to be about $100 (a month).”

In addition, Griffin teachers can fine students who don’t turn in homework or follow classroom rules.

Janovitch had to pay $10 in fines at the bank last week.

“I accidentally blurted out something (during class), and then I forgot a pencil,” she said.

The bank, which is operated by parents who volunteer as tellers, is open three times a week, for about a half-hour at the end of the school day. It’s a time of the day when the school’s reading and math clubs typically meet, Stottlemyre said.

The program covers a host of language-arts and mathematics lessons, including cursive writing, budgeting and financial vocabulary.

“There’s lots of math practice,” said fifth-grade science teacher Johanna Dowler. “They have to balance their checkbooks and keep accurate records.”

The idea was patterned after a classroom bank that Stottlemyre operated at Tumwater Middle School for several years.

But the program at Griffin is much bigger, she said. And Griffin teachers have come up with several bonus activities — including pajama day and craft parties — that students can save up to purchase with their school money. There also are plans for an auction, Stottlemyre said.

Josiah Jones-Wyeth, 11, visited the bank last week to deposit $22 in checks and pay $10 in fines. By the end of the day, his checking account balance was $321.

“I think it’s cool because they’re teaching us about checking in the real world,” Jones-Wyeth said. “I’ve learned that if you spend money you don’t have, you’re in the danger zone.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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