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Student credit union opens
Its a first for SJ County at Manteca High campus
ROP student and Manteca High senior Luis Ruelas receives a surprise check from Premier Community Credit Unions chairman of the board, Donald Knudsen, during grand opening ceremonies Thursday for the Buffalo Premier Credit Union. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Manteca High School’s Buffalo Premier Credit Union was treated to a grand opening Thursday on campus complete with pomp and circumstance.

The Manteca High Band played and led in the singing of the National Anthem. The school’s JROTC lent formality to the occasion by doing the honors of posting the colors as various dignitaries who joined other guests that included parents and grandparents of students stood watch.

All of that grand welcome was fitting. The Buffalo Premier Credit Union is, after all, the first high school credit union to be established in San Joaquin County.

“We’re really excited for the students. Premier Community Credit Union has been in San Joaquin County since 1931,” CEO Paul Young said during his speech before a group of students, their families including grandparents, and school district officials who gathered in front of the portable classroom on Mikesell Avenue just before noon Thursday for the student credit union’s official grand-opening ceremonies.

From its inception, Premier Community has always been about “people helping people. Now, we have students helping students,” he said of the first-of-its-kind financial program in the county which actually started four weeks ago.

With the work skills and work ethics that the students involved in the program learn by actual experience, Yang said he hopes that these lessons will “help them to become better persons in the future.”

Establishing a student credit union program “has always been a dream of mine,” Yang said.

“I feel privileged to partner with Manteca High and Manteca Unified School District,” he said as he thanked the school officials who helped make his dream a reality.

“Thank you for your support and encouragement,” he told the school officials.

But it’s not just the school and the students that are benefiting from the student credit union program, Manteca Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debby Moorhead pointed out.

“This is a great opportunity for the students – for everyone,” said Moorhead who led the traditional cutting of the ribbon for the new credit union’s grand opening ceremonies.

Manteca Unified Senior Director of Secondary Education Clara Schmiedt said the program’s hands-on learning and experience is “one of the most powerful ways to educate our children” and to prepare them for the “real word experience.”

Schmiedt also credited Yang for his role in making the on-campus program a reality.

“Without him, none of this would have happened,” she said.

She admitted that when the idea was first brought to her attention over a year ago by Manteca High ROP Coordinator Kathy Ruble and Assistant Principal Raul Mora, her first reaction was, “Oh, wow! That sounds fantastic! We’re going to use real money with real kids?”

Mora said he was sold on the idea of the student credit union because “we believe in children and the future of this community.”

How the student credit union works

The Buffalo Premier Credit Union is an ROP class available for students. It is a real branch of Premier Community Credit Union. However, it is not open to the public. Its banking services are open only to school faculty, staff and students.

The ROP students actually staff the credit union, just as tellers do at any bank. Even the portable classroom is set up like that of a bank where there are teller windows with the students behind the counter serving the clients. Behind the counter, which serves as a partition, is the actual classroom where a luncheon reception catered by DeVinci’s Delicatessen and Catering in Manteca was held after the grand-opening ceremonies.

Instead of receiving salaries, the student workers receive curriculum credits.

However, at the conclusion of the program Thursday, the students learned another lesson – that hard work has its compensation. Premier Community Credit Union board chairman Donald Knudsen surprised the students with check presentations in recognition of their accomplishments to date in the program. They were recognized for the number of accounts that they have opened since the campus credit union opened four weeks ago. The student with the largest number of accounts opened was Luis Ruelas, a senior student.

Ruelas was followed by ROP students Aimee Douglass, 6; Jesse Aquino, 5; Kay McCann, 4; Nicole Magnuson, 3; and Jacob Leary, Jacob McNair, Austin Leighton, and Sagrario Castaneda, each posting two accounts opened.

Leighton, a junior at Manteca High, said that his experience at the student credit union will help open doors for him when he goes to apply for a job in the future.

“It’s really a good opportunity to learn about money. I learned how to manage my money, and you get to learn people skills. It teaches you how to prepare for the real world. Hopefully, I’ll get a job in banking in the future,” said Leighton who plans to go to a junior college after graduation and then transfer to a university campus.

Overseeing the ROP credit union class is Kathleen Long whose professional background includes 20 years of working for Wells Fargo Bank, which was her profession prior to switching to teaching. She started teaching the ROP Banking and Finance Course in 1993 for Manteca Unified.

“Premier Community Credit Union’s main focus is financial literacy in youth. We regularly partner with Junior Achievement to provide a series of financial education classes that range from third graders through high school,” said Premier Community marketing manager Michelle Burns.

“As a whole, our credit union participates in many community events, including a food drive, Toys for Tots, annual Mother’s Day fair, and we just held a community Shred and e-waste Day this past Saturday for the community,” Burns said.

Premier Community Credit Union’s Stockton office is located at 3315 W. Benjamin Holt Drive .