Program offers students taste of businesses

May 07, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

Ambitious, focused and enamored of the business world, Danielle Curtis has worked with a large accounting firm, takes a college finance course at night and dreams of starting her own financial consulting firm.

Time is definitely on Danielle's side -- she's only 17. She hasn't even graduated from Lake Clifton/Eastern High School yet. That works to Danielle's advantage because she belongs to a unique school program aimed at cranking out budding capitalists.

Known as the Academy of Finance, it builds an early mastery of business basics. Participants get a good grounding in academics, as well as hands-on experience.

The concept started in New York's public schools nine years ago and has since spread to 25 school districts nationwide, with 2,500 students participating in cities that include Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Funding comes from corporations and philanthropic foundations.

Students in Baltimore's academy take their regular classes, plus subjects such as Economics and Computers, Personal Finance, Banking and Credit and Securities Operation.

They also take a night course in finance at Morgan State University and participate in a nine-week summer internship with financial services companies in the metropolitan area, Kathy Floyd, the program director, said.

Danielle did her internship at Coopers and Lybrand last summer and earned $200 a week.

"I've been very impressed with the quality of the two interns that have worked with us, and the quality of all of the students that work with the program," said James W. Zug, managing partner of Coopers and Lybrand's Baltimore office and chairman of the Academy of Finance's Baltimore advisory board.

PHH Corp., T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., Alex. Brown & Sons and Commercial Credit Co. also take interns from Lake Clifton/Eastern's Academy of Finance, which got under way in 1987 and has a budget of $100,000, Mr. Zug said.

Twice a week, academy students at Lake Clifton/Eastern are called on to make the ultimate adolescent sacrifice -- staying after school. That's when an academy program called Strategies for Success is run. It teaches resume-writing skills, how to handle job interviews, SAT preparation and dining etiquette.

Danielle's non-academy friends marvel at her dedication and perseverance.

"Most of them just say, 'I don't see how you can do it,' " she said. "They don't understand how I can stay after school on Mondays and Wednesdays -- they don't understand all the great things the academy can do for you.

"It's rigorous," she added. "In the academy you have to study a little more than normal."

Paula Matthews, an academy instructor, said her biggest problem is getting students to leave after classes end.

"That's simply because it's all new subject matter to them," said Ms. Matthews, who teaches economics and finance courses. "They really haven't had that much experience with economic situations and financial matters, and they seem to be absolutely fascinated. Classes run over every day.

"They'll get you in a room and question you and question you and question you," Ms. Matthews said with a laugh. "They read the Wall Street Journal every day, so they come in ready."

The Academy of Finance at Lake Clifton/Eastern High School has more than 100 participants. Slots are filled competitively, and highschool students citywide are eligible to apply.

However, a student attending another school must transfer to Lake Clifton/Eastern after being accepted.

Ninth-graders and 10th-graders must have a grade average of 75 or better and at least a 90 percent attendance rate, Ms. Floyd said. Eleventh-graders need an 80 percent grade average and a 90 percent attendance rate.

"The whole focus of the program is to better prepare public high school students to make the transition from school to work," said Bernadette Toomey, a spokesman for the National Academy Foundation,the umbrella organization for the Academy of Finance.

American Express started the Academy of Finance in New York in 1982.

There's nothing entry-level, however, about the dreams and aspirations of Danielle Curtis, who graduates from Lake Clifton/Eastern thisyear.

"I'm going to Bowie [State University] and taking banking and finance," she said. "Then, I'm going to pursue a career in financial consulting. I plan on working for a company maybe two years, then I can get my own financial consulting business. I want to do so much!"

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