As the school year wrapped up in June, rising Lamar High School senior Ariana Valdez pondered her future.
The 17-year-old had been tapped in the spring for a financial internship sponsored by the Smart Financial Credit Union branch on the Lamar campus. As she embraced the program, her perspective shifted.
“Over the past few weeks, I learned so much and have grown as a person,” Valdez said. “Good business is about making connections and learning from your peers.”
Launched in a vacant classroom a decade ago, the Lamar branch has been granting internships to business pathway students since its inception, according to Smart Financial Relationship Manager Elizabeth Gonzalez.
With the high school recently rebuilt as part of the 2012 Bond Program, the program now has space to offer full-service products and services just like other community locations.
“The Lamar High School and Smart Financial partnership offers much-needed financial services to the community and the district along with career opportunities for motivated students,” Gonzalez said.
Students in the program get hands-on experience as teller trainees while participating in a comprehensive learning plan offered through the school’s Business, Finance, and Marketing program, one of 14 career and technical education programs.
T.J. Chambers has taught the course for 10 years. In that time, the curriculum has evolved from basic banking skills and teller operations to trainings on insurance, proper credit, and loans.
“We offer a vast array of certification courses for our pathway students,” Chambers said. “This enhances their knowledge of business software, banking processes, and ethics. The internships allow students to exercise that knowledge.”
The internship led to a real-life opportunity Katy Vargas, a Class of 2017 Lamar alumna. Now a branch relationship specialist, Vargas said the CTE pathway opened a new door for her.
“The work involves more than just being a good teller,” Vargas said. “For the last five years, I have been building relationships within the community.”
Financial intern Julia McCabe, a 17-year-old senior, is also a four-year credit union member. She said learning about financial literacy has given her a head start in life.
“Coming to work and helping people with their finances makes me feel like a responsible adult,” McCabe said. “I’m excited to be my best self.”
The Smart Financial Credit Union branch on the Lamar campus is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.