Education advocates have worked to ensure K-12 curriculums are more in line with real-world expectations for years. One of the most pointed topics for curriculum redesign has been the inclusion of classes related to financial literacy.

In 2022, the National Endowment for Financial Education released a report highlighting the nationwide efforts to make this advocacy work a reality for students. And for some who attend a historically Black school in North Carolina, that reality has been leveled up.

Hands-on instruction has taken on a new meaning for the students of Hillside High School as it has opened a bank on its campus in Durham.

According to a report by local public radio station WUNC-91.5, financial literacy has been an evolving part of North Carolina’s K-12 curriculum. The opening of the bank models that commitment through Hillside’s Student Bank Training Center.

Although positioned as a student learning mechanism, the fully functioning bank branch allows students, staff, and families to open and operate accounts as they would at any other financial institution.

A part of the Woodforest National Bank system based in Texas, the high school bank is in partnership with Hillside’s Business and Finance Academy. With over 80 locations across North Carolina, Hillside’s branch is the first of its kind opened in a high school. The bank’s senior vice president, Jessica Valentine, expressed her support for the partnership and opportunities.

“There’s a staff that’s been hired for this branch, there’s a manager and service representatives, and so they facilitate everything,” Valentine said. “And we’re here on a weekly basis sort of providing any follow-up training or questions or things like that. So we’re just supporting the staff that’s here, the kids.”

Many of the jobs are filled by students. Hillside senior Kiara Lowther works as one of the bank’s loan officers, making her a part of a cohort of students training at the branch through the Hillside Business and Finance Academy.

While Woodforest National Bank is the official branch operator, Priscilla Ross heads the school’s academy providing support and oversight to the program and operations.

“Well, hopefully, this will generate some more interest in students wanting to learn more about the Finance Academy, especially those students who are going to be accountants are thinking about going into anything finance,” Ross explained. “They definitely would want to come to Hillside High School.”