Battle Ground students land jobs through experience operating bank at high school

Battle Ground School District highlights success stories in one of many Career and Technical Education classes

BATTLE GROUND — Since 2001, students at Battle Ground High School haven’t had to wait until after high school to explore a career in financial operations.

No, for 17 years many students have spent their lunchtimes working the counter at the school’s iQ Credit Union branch, a fully functioning operation that puts those studying in business teacher Kevin Weeks’ Financial Operations class to work before graduating.

Battle Ground High School students Tori Abernathy, left, and Emmie Rhoades, right, and teacher Kevin Weeks prepare to open for business. Photo by the Battle Ground School District
Battle Ground High School students Tori Abernathy, left, and Emmie Rhoades, right, and teacher Kevin Weeks prepare to open for business. Photo by the Battle Ground School District

The Battle Ground School District highlighted some of the success stories the program has produced in a press release this week, telling the stories of Emmie Rhoades, Tori Abernathy and Cambrie Korpela, BGHS seniors who stand “patiently and confidently behind the counter, well-equipped to weather whatever rush comes their way” as their fellow students withdraw and deposit money.

Besides operating the bank, the class and its 15 or so students also manage human resources, marketing and communications functions for the branch.

Beyond providing experience, the program, which is one of 200 Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes in 36 content areas at the school, has resulted in real, permanent employment for some and a meaningful summer gig or part-time occupation for others.

According to the press release, Rhoades, Abernathy and Korpela all have similar stories to tell about their experiences. All three started as sophomores working behind the scenes on marketing, human resources or auditing assignments before becoming managers or assistant managers of the iQCU BGHS branch. All three were eventually hired to work part-time as paid interns at external, full-service iQCU branch locations.

“This is a phenomenal program for students’ educational and professional development,” said Weeks, the business teacher. “The students learn skills and characteristics that make them highly desirable employees right out of high school, and it helps students find their career niche.”

Korpela found herself hired at the end of her sophomore year, and since then has been working part-time outside of the class. While she plans to go to college and become a second-grade teacher, she says her experience provides advantages that she’ll take with her to college.

“Working for iQCU has been a great first job experience,” Korpela said. “I’ve loved everything about the Financial Operations class, and I believe the skills and work experience I’ve developed will give me an advantage while I continue to work my way through college.”    

Abernathy was hired as an intern at the Battle Ground branch last July, working full-time over the summer and then part-time throughout the school year. She impressed her employers so much that she was offered and accepted a full-time job, which she’ll start right after graduating from high school in a few weeks.     

“I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do for a job before I took this class,” Abernathy said. “After gaining experience and being able to work with such a great team and company, I know there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than starting a career in the financial services industry.”   

Campus Branch Coordinator Casey VanDaam, left, with the students of the Financial Operations class. Photo by the Battle Ground School District
Campus Branch Coordinator Casey VanDaam, left, with the students of the Financial Operations class. Photo by the Battle Ground School District

Rhoades echoed the sentiment of finding career direction thanks to the class and the resulting internship. Starting out as a communications officer in the class her sophomore year, she didn’t have a clear idea of what she wanted to do after high school. She advanced to an assistant branch manager role her junior year and was hired as an intern at the Ridgefield branch. After graduating, she plans to continue working at the Ridgefield location and is seeking a full-time, permanent position.

“I was really nervous and felt stressed out when I first started working as an intern, but my initial experience at the BGHS branch made the transition way less intimidating,” Rhoades said. “While the environments are different, starting at the campus branch helped me ease into it and get up to speed much more quickly.”       

Weeks estimates that five to 10 students are hired each year as paid interns through the campus programs. In fact, the last manager at iQCU’s main Battle Ground branch location was a graduate of BGHS who worked her way up through the high school’s program.  

“We’re continually impressed with the attitudes, skills, and abilities of the student interns we hire each year,” said Casey VanDaam, iQCU’s campus branch coordinator. “These kids help contribute to our success as an organization each and every day, and we’re proud to have them as member service representatives.”

The program is one of Battle Ground Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education (CTE) paths that students can take in high school. CTE programs provide hands-on training in skills that help students get jobs or prepare them to continue their educations. These programs are key strategies in meeting one of the district’s goals: Support the future success of all students by preparing them to be career and college ready at graduation. In Battle Ground schools, approximately 200 CTE classes are taught each semester in 36 content areas by teachers who have worked in the industry they are teaching.

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