Caldwell first graders start saving for college

Caldwell mayor Garret Nancolas wants to see Izaias Orozco be the first in his family to go to college.

Izaias Orozco
Izaias Orozco

Izaias doesn’t really understand what college is all about. He’s only 6 years old. But his mother does. And when she found out the mayor wanted to start Izaias a college savings program, she cried.

“I was balling my eyes out,” said Ashley Espinoza. “No one ever talked to me about college. Starting right now, we have this whole time to save for his future. I think we can do it.”

Nancolas this year launched the Caldwell Saves 1st program, a savings initiative that establishes college savings accounts for 23 Caldwell first graders. The mayor is donating seed money into IDeal 529 accounts, which are funds reserved for higher-education expenses.

“We are confident that teaching our children financial skills from an early age will yield excellent results and will pay dividends for years to come,” Nancolas said.

Caldwell elementary principals each nominated a handful of first graders for the pilot program. After interviews with the parents, 23 families were selected to participate. The parents are required to attend eight hours of financial management training classes.

“I really needed the financial advice,” Ashley said after her first two-hour class. “We learned saving tips. I’ve already improved at paying my bills on time.”

While the parents are in financial-planning classes, the first graders are in their own classes learning about the importance of saving money. They also made their own coin banks.

“I put my Easter money in my bank,” Izaias said. “I want to go to college so I can be on a SWAT team.”

Once the families complete their classwork, the mayor will put $15 in the child’s college savings account. If the family makes regular deposits of $5 or more for six months in a row, the child’s savings account will receive bonuses of $5 and $10. More bonuses are expected from community organizations and businesses. No tax dollars are paying for the college savings program.

“The mayor is funding this from his annual golf tournament,” said Holly Cook, special assistant to the mayor and program director. “Plus, we’ve partnered with some amazing organizations for this program.”

The city has partnered with IDeal for the savings accounts and Junior Achievement and Bank On of the Treasure Valley for the financial education classes. Other community organizations have donated dinner for the evening classes.

“Some of our parents have no checking or savings accounts so they have a lot to gain from the classes,” said Kristel Stills, whose daughter Sophie is benefiting. “This program has a lot of potential and I want to see it succeed. I like that responsibility and accountability is going back to the parents.”

The Stills have three children, Sophie is the youngest, and they’ve already started saving for college.

“We have good peer conversations in these classes, discussing tips for saving,” Still said.

First-grader Kaylynn Nash is starting to understand what going to college is all about.

“I want to go to college so I can be smart,” she said. “I want to be a teacher.”

The pilot program started with 23 first graders but Cook expects this is just the beginning.
“We hope to do this for every first grader in Caldwell,” she said. “We will track them all.”