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Saturday, August 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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La Follette High School to open credit union

Paul Simon famously mused, "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all." Point taken. But schools do occasionally try to prepare students for life.

On Jan. 25, Madison's La Follette High plans a "soft opening" of a Summit Credit Union on school grounds, with an official grand opening to follow in February.

"It's not necessarily a unique idea," admits Darrin Graham, a La Follette teacher who's spearheaded the project. Other state public schools already have onsite credit unions, serving students and faculty while helping teach "financial literacy."

But La Follette is the first school in Dane County to embrace this trend. (Memorial teacher Dave Thomas worked with Graham on the idea, but a decision was made to open a La Follette credit union first.)

La Follette Principal Joe Gothard says making room for the facility served another long-term goal: creating a "welcoming" space in the school's main entrance. "We took about a classroom and a half and remodeled it to a welcoming center on one side and the credit union on the other."

The credit union will be staffed by La Follette students (two of whom have already been hired and trained) and overseen by a branch manager for Summit Credit Union. It will be open to La Follette students and staff (not the general public) for a brief time each day, during the lunch hour. It will cash checks, manage checking and savings accounts, even make some loans.

Moreover, promises Graham, "It's going to be a really good educational experience for our kids." Students in Graham's marketing classes will craft campaigns for the new service. And the branch manager will be on hand to talk to classes about economics and finance.

"Really, the whole purpose of us being there is to educate the students," says the branch manager, Jenna Gordon (La Follette Class of '98). The idea is to teach financial management skills and "help them save toward their future goals."

In the long term, the credit union could play a role in students' families, as a resource and teaching tool. "We're trying to have a big effect on not only our students but on the families of our students," says Graham. "It's going to be a great thing, and we're really excited by it."

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