Independence educators collaborating with bankers to create student-run bank

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — One metro school district is offering a unique brand of on-the-job training.

Educators in Independence are helping open a bank — a real one — that will be staffed with high school students. It’s believed to be the only one in the nation that’s built on an educational business model that includes teenagers, who will actually serve internships at the bank.

It’s within the old bank vault that sits in the office at West Lexington and South Liberty streets where educators and bankers are investing in the future.

Financial leaders at Blue Ridge Bank are turning that downtown Independence storefront into a classroom of sorts, where students from all three high schools from the Independence School District will have opportunities to work and learn about the banking business.

For now, a remodeling crew is there, working with power tools to make everything perfect since there will be a classroom inside the forthcoming bank.

“It’s a good basic start,” said Bill Esry, president and CEO of Blue Ridge Bank, describing the opportunity this will afford students.

Esry said he grew up in Independence, where he graduated from Truman High School. He began working in the mail room at Blue Ridge Bank, where he eventually worked his way to the top position in the company.

“To the best of my knowledge, this may be one of the first in the country. All the others we’ve heard about have been partnerships on school property primarily for the students and the faculty. This is a community bank in the community run by students,” Esry said.

Independence School District administrators wanted to use that location on the city’s downtown square, making it part of the district’s academy learning program. Four other storefronts call the same neighborhood their home, all of which offer ISD students a focused atmosphere in which they can focus on a chosen avenue of study.

“Our kids will have a classroom setting that’s built right into the space. It’s a fully functioning, working bank where our kids will be able to leave the classroom and go into the bank and do their internships and learn about each piece of the banking experience,” said Dale Hurl, Independence Schools superintendent.

“This, actually being in a bank, would be crazy cool,” Hannah Noel, a William Chrisman High School student also enrolled in finance classes, said Monday.

“I think it’s an amazing process to be in,” Noel said. “Then you can see how the day-to-day operation runs and see if it’s a good fit. It’s like a job-shadowing, but it’s on steroids.”

Construction workers told FOX4 the remodel of the bank’s storefront should be finished in about a week, but classes that include student bankers won`t begin until the fall.

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