Banking on the future

Program helps students develop critical thinking

Employees at Firstar’s New Berlin bank thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor to help schoolchildren gain insight into the work world through New Berlin’s “Adopt-a-School” program.

They accomplished that, and more.

When a group of 21 students from the Glen Park Elementary School showed up at the bank last month, the seven Firstar employees who participated gained insight into their own jobs, as well.

“At one point, I told one young man my title,” recalls Mike Simmer, senior vice president with Firstar’s Retail Financial Group. “He responded politely, letting me know that was all well and good, but he wanted to know what I really did. These kids were positively inspiring.”

The New Berlin Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in getting Firstar and Glen Park together in 1997. Through the “Habits of the Mind” program, students learn what it takes to make it in the business world.

“This was much more than your basic ‘see-the-vault-and-here’s-how-we-count-coins tour,'” Simmer says. “I was amazed at the thought that went into the students’ questions. They focused on the kind of life skills – the qualities and skills required to do an important job in any field.”

The Adopt-A-School program was the result of hearing from many businesses in the community that they are having trouble finding workers with the proper skills, says Rick Eckart, executive director of the New Berlin Chamber.

“This has been a fantastic program – well-received by the students, administrators, parents, and the employees of the bank,” Eckart says. “They’re learning a lot about the way they think and approach their jobs through helping the kids in this program. I was very impressed by how articulate and bright these students were and how eager they were to participate and learn. The employees and officials at the bank were also impressed with the program – definitely a win-win.”

The New Berlin program is part of Firstar’s commitment to support young people and education, says Firstar’s Randy Duke. Over the course of 1997, representatives of the bank and members of Glen Park’s faculty met a number of times to study the “Habits of the Mind” concept. They developed a plan which incorporated pertinent discussion and activities into the school’s curriculum during the first two months of this year, leading up to a March 10 visit at the school.

“Habits of the Mind” is an element of a program called “Dimensions of the Mind,” originally developed at the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory in Aurora, Col.

The students’ interviews centered on how the bank employees themselves use “Habits of the Mind” thinking, which includes critical thinking which encompasses accuracy, clarity, open-mindedness, respect and restraint, creative thinking, and evaluating feedback.

Robin Talbott, office manager at Firstar’s Waukesha office on Silvernail Road, was an enthusiastic participant in the program.

“I thought it was awesome,” Talbott said. “I think if every school would begin teaching Habits of the Mind, when the kids enter the workforce it would make a real difference. I was amazed at how focused they were when we met with them.”

Talbott would like to mirror the New Berlin program in the Waukesha area. Talbott was impressed with how the students asked questions about how a given job relates to a person’s life.

“It was most definitely a great refresher for all of us and how we relate planning, for example, to our everyday lives,” Talbott says. “I’ve never felt so good about a school program. It’s the first time I ever walked away feeling it was definitely something that can have a positive impact not only on me in my life but on my staff as well.

“A 6th-grader asked me about evaluation and what kind of feedback I give to my employees,” Talbott recalls. “That floored me.”

Firstar provided the students with professionals to interview regarding how they use Habits of the Mind-type thinking every day in their jobs or even in their personal lives.

“They’re not teaching the students what to think, but how to process their thoughts,” says Robert Figueroa, Firstar-New Berlin’s office manager.

April 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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