A high school bank is teaching students financial literacy

A bank branch inside Milaca High School is giving students real-world experience managing their money.
Posted at 12:10 PM, Mar 27, 2023

Only 56% of Americans are confident with their financial knowledge, according to a 2021 Harris Poll. One Minnesota High School wants to change that by teaching students about money in a unique way.  

Milaca High School senior Elizabeth Anderson has a big responsibility. She takes care of the bank accounts of her classmates and teachers as an intern and teller at First National Bank of Milaca. 

"I've definitely learned a lot more and learned a lot on how banks work and what different types of accounts mean," Anderson said.

Unlike regular banks, this branch is located inside Milaca High School. It teaches students about how money works and how to handle it.   

"It can be very intimidating to walk into a bank. It's usually a very quiet space,” says Rachelle Nelson, president and CEO of First National Bank of Milaca. 

So they made the bank accessible for all 764 high school students. It's a mini-bank, which opens two days a week. It resembles a classroom, but don't be fooled. It is a real bank, complete with security cameras and a safe.  

"We really wanted to educate kids, and banking is a really great career," Nelson said. "Giving them the opportunity to work here in the school branch and be a teller and show their peers is a good place to start."

The Harris Poll also found a little more than a third of adults are concerned that the money they have or will save won't last. That can be due in part to a lack of financial literacy skills, like creating budgets, paying off loans or putting aside money for the future.   

Only 15 states require a financial literacy course for students to graduate high school.  So unless they learn from their parents, a majority of students are left without that real-world knowledge. 

Milaca principal Damian Patnode says "[Students] don't really have a concept of how to make their money work for them, you know, what a bank can do to kind of help provide those opportunities to build wealth and to become kind of self-made."

U.S. currency

Why are more states requiring personal finance education?

More and more states have required high school students to take a financial literacy course before graduating.


While the state of Minnesota doesn't have a financial literary requirement to graduate, Patnode saw an opportunity for a hands-on approach for his students after visiting a larger school with a similar concept. He approached the local bank two years ago. Now, students like Anderson are seeing a difference. 

"I don't think a lot of high schoolers spend very well. I think they spend very carelessly," she says. 

Anderson is already thinking long term: retirement. 

"I actually recently just opened up a Roth IRA account because of the bank." She adds, "because I learned what it was working through my internship and how great it was for retirement in the future."

She also mentioned saving money and having an emergency fund is a lesson she'll take with her in the future. Interns like Anderson are also teaching other students about money, including elementary school kids. But the partnership is more than just learning and teaching — the paid internship not only exposes students to banking as a career, but it also looks great on a resume.  

Milaca High School teacher Jennifer Taylor trains her students in business and finance. She says, "When they do an internship and work in a bank, this is something that other students don't have. This puts you a step ahead of other kids."

First National Bank has been a part of this community for more than 120 years. Nelson says the bank invested $15,000 to get the mini-bank started. 

"This is not a moneymaker," Nelson said. "We are doing this solely as a community reinvestment, trying to teach our kids. … We really wanted kids to see their peers working in a branch and understand that it's a good career and something to think about."

For adults or high schoolers afraid of tackling financial matters, Anderson has a tip: "You just have to face your fear and look at your bank account. And if you look at it, that's because of you."