Michigan City High School and Horizon Bank held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning at Horizon's newest facility, located inside the high school itself.
Aptly named the Wolves Branch after the school's mascot, the branch is located in a well-lit and accessible corner of the cafeteria. This new facility represents a partnership between an active community business and the school system. The goal is to promote financial literacy and give its students opportunities and advantages rarely offered in a school setting.
"We want to make sure that our students are financially literate, that they understand how credit works, how loans work, and that they are staying out of debt. We know that by partnering with Horizon Bank, that kind of education can take place right here," MCHS Principal Wendel McCollum said.
Nicholas Seibert and Jalen Smith, two of the student employees, said they were eager to apply when they first heard about the idea.
"It's a great opportunity for us. We're getting paid to go to school," Seibert said.
"It also gives us experience, and it's going to look good on college applications," added Smith, who said he intends to pursue a degree in Business after graduation.
Michigan City Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins spoke from a podium beside the new branch and in front of representatives from Horizon, MCHS, and community members. Dr. Eason-Watkins thanked the many people involved in making the project come together and recognized a number of those in attendance including School Board members Marty Corley and Theresa Edwards as well as Steven Kring, chairman of the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce.
"We are very excited about Horizon's new MC Wolves Branch, which provides financial literacy and job opportunities for our high school students," Dr. Eason-Watkins said. "Horizon has stepped forward as a strong partner of public education in Michigan City, and we appreciate their continued support of our schools and our students."
Carla Kanney, senior vice president of sales and branch administration for Horizon Bank spoke next to highlight the large number of MCHS graduates who now work for Horizon.
"One of Horizon's core values is 'We contribute to the betterment of our community' – this opportunity was in perfect alignment with that," Kanney said.
Principal McCollum then took the podium to pump up the crowd with an "Are you ready?" speech, a phrase he is known to use in his morning address to his students. Today, McCollum tied that phrase to the fact that while college and career readiness has become the motto of high schools across the nation, here in Michigan City opportunities like this one show that both the community and the school system are actively ensuring these students are, in fact, ready for the world after graduation.
The Wolves Branch consists of a traditional teller station and a customer service area. It is operated by six MCHS students with Jen McGrew overseeing as Horizon's representative. Open to use only by students, faculty, and staff, per regulatory guidelines it is not a traditional bank branch though it offers many commonly sought services including checking and savings account opening and access. The branch also issues custom Wolves debit cards. The branch operates 30 minutes before school begins and is open during lunch periods when school is in session.
"The student employees received teller training including regulations, cash handling, and how to manage transactions. With the hours we're open it's a very limited part-time job, but most importantly they gain all the training and experience without missing their regular classes," McGrew explained.
Principal McCollum introduced the student employees and then—with the help of MCHS mascot Wolfie—the students, bank representatives, and school officials cut the ribbon in front of the modern-style office.
School Board member Corley said he was happy to see a community business investing in the students to strengthen the community as a whole.
"This kind of education is fundamental at an early age. Being able to balance a check book and understand credit are things they will need to know as adults, but not all students learn these skills in time at home. Strong schools make for strong communities, so even if you don't have kids in school this kind of partnership is benefiting everyone," Corley said.