On Their Own

Bronx high school students open a bank branch

Eunice Somuah had never been on a job interview before. The 19-year-old senior at Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in New York City knew this was one she had to ace: North Fork Bank, a division of Capital One, was opening a student-run branch at her high school and paying seniors $11.00 an hour to work as tellers.

Somuah and her mother practiced the interview basics: Give a firm handshake and maintain eye contact. She also stood in front of the mirror to ensure she had a professional appearance from head to toe. One cover letter, one rÈsumÈ, one essay, and two interviews later, Somuah landed the job. “I was very excited. I celebrated at home with my family,” says the poised, soft-spoken student who came to the United States from Ghana one year ago.

Nine other seniors were also given the good news, making them the first group to work at North Fork Bank’s premiere high school branch. The bank, which opened last October, was created to educate students about financial responsibility. Each student staff member works one day a week at the branch and also travels from classroom to classroom giving financial literacy presentations. Branch manager David Issac, a North Fork employee, says that students learn best from their peers. “What’s effective about the [savings] message is it makes a lot more sense when it’s coming from their classmates than when it’s coming from me.”

The student-run bank mirrors any other branch, albeit a smaller version. There are two teller windows and two stations reserved for opening new accounts. Pablo Esquea, 18, opened a savings account. “I know that my money is safe because it’s inside the school,” he says. Like Esquea, every student and faculty and staff member has the option of opening a bank account. At this bank, there’s no minimum balance requirement and no fees attached. Students receive ATM cards and can withdraw funds from Capital One or North Fork ATM machines without any fees. All students need to sign up is a school identification card and $1.

“It’s a real hands-on way for students to learn,” says Fordham principal Richard Bost. He says that sometimes students have unrealistic ideas about what they can and can’t do. “This opens the doors.”

Teller Ethon Miller, 18, has always wanted to be involved in the business world. “Back in [Jamaica], everybody’s dream is to work in a bank,” he says. “It’s a big deal.” Once he learned that he got the job, his family members in Jamaica, including his father, called to congratulate him. “I just released the news two hours ago, and everyone was calling me,” says the high school senior who plans to apply to Duke and Yale universities to major in business and engineering. Miller says he couldn’t be happier and looks forward to his shift every Friday morning at 11:30-already a part of the working world.

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