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Summit Credit Union student intern Brooks Beveridge, left, 10th grade, works with branch manager Melanie Ruelas during a transaction with Gwen Warren, 10th grade, Wednesday at the credit union branch office at La Follette High School.

Andy Manis

When you first walk into the Summit Credit Union at La Follette High School, it strikes you how it looks like a typical branch because of the way it was constructed and is separated from the school office next door.

Then you see the three brightly colored bean bag chairs lining a wall and you know you are not in just any branch. A gaming system for students to use when they visit also is in the plans.

It’s all part of Summit Credit Union’s attempts to make the branch have a fun and welcoming atmosphere in addition to teaching students about finances and encouraging them to save.

“Sometimes students just need to decompress and relax,” said Melanie Ruelas, branch manager.

Summit opened the La Follette branch in 2011 for students and staff and then one at Memorial High School in 2013 and at East High School in 2016, in conjunction with the Madison School District. In addition to locating credit unions at the schools, Summit has funded the welcome centers there.

Now a branch is also being built at Middleton High School by UW Credit Union and should be open by next semester.

Another giveaway that La Follette is not your typical branch is the paid student interns working behind the teller counter.

“I thought it would be a cool experience to help my peers out,” said Cassidy Ferguson, a La Follette senior and intern. “There’s a lot of members who come in on a daily basis so I get to build a relationship with those members.”

Jenna Gordon, who graduated from La Follette in 1998, was the first to oversee the branch at her alma mater and continues to oversee the operation of three schools in her position as sales manager at Summit.

“Initially it was an idea of (Madison School District) teachers who had worked together with the concept of interactive hands-on experience, specifically at Memorial and La Follette,” Gordon said. “It is 100 percent in alignment with the core of what we do.”

Summit also has financial education coordinators that work with West High School to assist with the curriculum and provide seminars.

Amie Kabera, a junior who is an intern and one of the 399 members at La Follette, said she switched from another credit union after her dad told her about all of Summit’s benefits.

“It was convenient how there was a branch right in school,” she said.

In addition to partnering with the Madison School District to provide financial education outside of the credit union, Summit is involved in various events at the schools such as homecoming. Part of the intern’s job is to do presentations in classrooms and do marketing by handing out materials in the hallways.

Summit also sponsors the Project Teen Money scholarship, in which students create videos to teach peers and the public about spending while competing for a $2,500 scholarship. Runners-up receive $500 and if the Summit ATM within a school yields a profit in any given year, the credit union also will put 25 percent of the profits toward an additional scholarship.

The credit union at Middleton High School will be located at the former site of a concession stand, which will give easy access to the ATM outside the building. The UW Credit Union agreed to relocate the concession stand, which will now be at a more logical spot given how people currently enter the school, said Cherie Hellenbrand, school-to-career coordinator who teaches in the business marketing and information technology department.

The students working at the branch will do so through participation in the Youth Apprenticeship Program coordinated by the Dane County School Consortium, Hellenbrand said.

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