ABOUT CASS KICKSTART TO CAREERS
Cass Kickstart to Careers launched in 2019 to provide all incoming Sam Adams Elementary kindergarten students with interest-bearing child savings accounts with an initial deposit of $25. The program, which is meant to help children begin saving for post-secondary education, encourages students and families to make deposits into the bank account throughout the student’s school career. Additional financial incentives may be awarded to students who achieve academic or attendance goals, according to program representatives. The funds put into the CSAs will not be available to students until they graduate high school, and families can opt-out of the program if they choose to do so. So far, no parent has opted out of the program.
Any student who comes to Cassopolis Public Schools as a kindergartener will also receive a children’s savings account. If a child’s family decides to move away from the school district, the account will stay open. While the program will discontinue adding to the account, it will remain open for families and students to continue to contribute.
Cass Kickstart to Careers was made possible through a partnership between the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation, Cassopolis Public Schools, Circle Federal Credit Union, and the Cass Kickstart Committee. Michigan Gateway Community Foundation was instrumental in helping the Kickstart Committee launch the Cass Kickstart program because the Foundation had previous experience setting up a similar program for Buchanan School District. Today the Cass Kickstart to Careers program is managed and supported by Circle Federal Credit Union and the Cass Kickstart Committee.
Getting everyone on board
To get the CSA program rolling, it was a priority for the Kickstart committee to develop relationships with the Cassopolis Public Schools superintendent, school board, and teachers. The support of Sam Adams Elementary kindergarten teachers has been instrumental to the success and excitement generated throughout the community.
According to one kindergarten teacher, when the program was first implemented students were bringing in a few pennies daily to add to their piggy banks which are kept in a locked cabinet. She noticed the excitement on her student’s faces as they put their coins in their banks. Since then, the teachers have unanimously decided to make the first Friday of every month, and later changed to the first Thursday, a day dedicated to making deposits into the piggy banks. Early in 2020, they sent red envelopes home with their students asking parents to send back change. They received a great response which means the parents are buying into the program, too.
By working in collaboration with the school board, teachers are also brainstorming ways to implement a rewards program. On a monthly basis, a golden ticket winner is selected, which could be an opportunity for a financial reward.
While kindergartners may not understand the concept of five pennies being worth less than a quarter, students are grasping the concept of saving. Teachers have witnessed students putting extra money in their piggy banks instead of spending it on trinkets in the Ranger Shop, which is similar to a school store.
The committee hopes as the program grows, the next set of teachers will meet the program with similar enthusiasm. The kindergarten teachers hope the children will remain excited as they get older. It’s something that continually gets community support, just to show the kids that there is interest in them outside of the school and value in them.
Mindset over money
For the Cass Kickstart Committee, the initial balance of $25 is helpful but not the sole purpose of the program. Instead, the program is about the thought process behind it.
“You are training the families and children that there is an opportunity beyond high school,” Committee member, Margie Yarger said. “It’s about the mindset more than the actual dollar amount.”
It is teaching an “I can do it” philosophy that some Cassopolis students and families may not have, said Jim Ward, another Committee member.
Building for the future
As the Cass Kickstart Committee continues in its infancy of the program, it is making a 13-year commitment to grow and stabilize its funding needs. The committee is looking for endowments to help support its cause.
As students age, incentives and rewards will need to change to remain appropriate. For example, a fourth-grade student may get rewarded for good grades and being involved in extracurricular activities.
The committee also wants to bring in guest speakers to broaden career exploration and present a long list of careers students could one day choose. “When you are a child in grade school, you either want to be a teacher, a nurse or a fireman, because those are the only other people you ever relate to or see,” said Committee member, Becky Moore.
With their plastic piggy bank in her hands, Morgan Stoops, a kindergartner at Sam Adams Elementary, said she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up because she liked to hold animals. At that moment, in her hands, she held her Cass Kickstart to careers piggy bank, but in the future, who knows what animal it could be?