Bulldog Branch

Anniston High senior Jordyn Johnson sets up her desk for customers during the grand opening Wednesday of Anniston High School's Bulldog Branch of AOD Federal Credit Union. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)

Anniston High School students are taking their finance lessons to the bank.

The school hosted a ribbon cutting Wednesday morning for the Bulldog Branch, a new, on-site AOD Federal Credit Union location for students and faculty. Students from the school’s business and finance program will operate the branch during school hours and earn course credit for their work.

“We don’t want to be just your average ‘get in at 8 a.m., go home at 3 p.m.’ high school,” said Edward Sturkie, director of the school’s career tech department, which includes the finance program. “We want students to connect with real-world experiences.”

The new credit union is the second to operate with the Bulldog Branch name; the first was a First Educators Credit Union (later AlaTrust Credit Union) location that opened in December 2011, and closed in 2016, according to school staff. Credit union branches in high schools aren’t common in Calhoun County, but they do exist around Alabama. Three schools in the Decatur area  — Austin, Hartselle and Decatur high schools — are hosts to Redstone Federal Credit Union locations that have opened in the last two years, and Sylacauga High School is home to a Heritage South Credit Union branch.

Four finance students went to Oxford’s AOD location to train for the job a few weeks ago. Senior Mekayla Snodgress said that the training process only took about three hours, but was the same training official AOD employees get. They learned procedures for working with accounts and used fake money to make deposits and withdrawals. Only one of the four students will work in the branch at any given time, on an hourly rotation that will allow them to go to their regular classes in between brief shifts during the day. Snodgress is the acting manager of the Bulldog Branch, with some supervision from school staff.

She said that the experience is particularly useful for her.

“I want to go into finance as an accountant,” Snodgress said, “so I’m glad I’m a part of this.”

Business and financial literacy teacher Nicole Bell was a central figure in bringing both credit unions to the school. She said she opened partnership discussions with AOD when staff members visited her classroom for a presentation two years ago. Bell said the real-world experience is invaluable.

“Right now we’re learning how to save, and that’s a discipline that doesn’t happen overnight. You have to learn that skill,” she said.

Virginia Bowen, AOD’s chief executive officer, said that the AHS location is a kind of “pilot program.” She said she’d like to open more branches in other schools if the partnership works out.

“That’s the one area I think is missing in the high school curriculum, is everyday applications for finance,” Bowen said. “You’re taught some accounting and some math, but how that plays into your everyday budgeting and credit decisions and savings, I think that’s something that’s skipped over in high schools.”

Sturkie said that several students have jobs but don’t have bank accounts, and spend money paying to cash their checks. They’ll be able to use the credit union to make deposits for free. The branch will allow accounts for savings but not checking, he said, though customers can get debit cards to access their money on demand.

He said that the students working at the Bulldog Branch have signed agreements to keep account information confidential, and the school hasn’t had any problems with privacy in the past, when the previous credit union was open.

He echoed comments that learning about money at an early age would be invaluable, especially if students consistently deposit money into their savings accounts.

“If I would have learned how to save at high school age, I probably would have retired now,” he joked.

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.