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Volunteers from Huntington Bank and Junior Achievement went to classrooms at McKeesport Area's Centennial Elementary School Friday for programs on financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workplace readiness. Huntington senior vice president Neal Shipley interacts with third-grade students.

Third-graders at McKeesport Area's Centennial Elementary School were asked a simple question on Friday: What do you want to be when you grow up?

“I want to be a race car driver,” Dewayne Allison wrote on a card handed out by volunteers from Huntington Bank and Junior Achievement.

“I want to be a teacher,” his classmate Malayshia Nelson wrote.

“I would like to be a veterinarian,” Zoe Kelley said.

“What's your favorite animal?” JA volunteer Kara Prentice asked.

“I'd say a cat,” Zoe said.

“My daughter would like to be a veterinarian, too,” Prentice said.

The questions were part of a series of classes led by Huntington Bank staffers and others involved in the Mon Yough Advisory Council of Junior Achievement.

“We are here teaching financial literacy, workplace readiness and entrepreneurship,” JA educational program manager Ashley Cycak said. “Huntington selected this school. They've been here multiple years.”

McKeesport Area is one of seven districts where the local Junior Achievement council has had programs in recent years.

Cycak said Clairton City fifth-graders attended a career fair earlier this week at Duquesne University. Other programs have been conducted in Steel Valley, Norwin, West Mifflin Area, South Allegheny and Elizabeth Forward districts.

“I did it last year as well,” said Victor Capozzolo, Huntington senior vice president and regional development director, as well as a newly elected member of the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

“We add a lot of real-world perspective,” said Capozzolo. “You find these kids have a lot of bright ideas that usually don't get expressed in their daily routines.”

Capozzolo taught a class to third-graders last year. He expected to see many of them on Friday as he was tackling a fourth-grade class.

Volunteers and bank employees also went to Centennial kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms.

“We really believe it is important to begin to teach students at a young age about understanding money and finances,” Huntington Bank vice president and senior community development relationship manager Lisa Quattrochi said, “in order to help prepare them for challenges that they will face later in life.”

The questions about future careers were an icebreaker, though not an easy one for some of the youngsters.

“How do you spell ‘firefighter?'” one boy asked.

“In everything you do, you can learn something,” Prentice said to open her program in third-grade teacher Dana Lawson's classroom.

Her icebreaker also involved linking all the students with a long white streamer, giving each a share as she asked them what their hobbies and interests were and what they wanted to do later in life.

“This is just fun to do,” student Paul Francis said. “She is showing us all this nice stuff.”

Including a football helmet.

Prentice's day job is a chemist, but she is a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Passion of the Women's Football Alliance, which has a 3-1 record going into Saturday's game with Boston at Highmark Stadium on the South Side.

Neal Shipley, another Huntington senior vice president, reminded students in substitute teacher Peter Yannopoulos' classroom of someone.

“You look exactly like Dr. Seuss,” a third-grader told him.

“How do you know what Dr. Seuss looks like?” Shipley wondered.

Another student suggested, “Santa Claus.”

“I got that,” Shipley said.

Noticing a city planning chart on the board, Shipley sought to get the students to discuss the early history of McKeesport, asking what transportation likely was used at the founding of a town at the juncture of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers.

Some said trains, cars and buses, but no one talked about boats, such as John McKee's ferry.

Quattrochi said the classroom effort is part of her bank's long history of reaching out and providing financial education to adults and students.

She said it is something Huntington has done since its founding in Columbus in 1866 and in Pittsburgh since it acquired Sky Financial Group in 2007.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or [email protected].

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