Teens get a head start in the numbers game

High school program provides students with early experience in the world of finance

July 10, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

As he entered his second week of a summer internship with a local accounting firm, Christopher Rallo was already talking like a professional.

"I was 19 cents off on a trial balance," said Rallo, 17, a rising senior at Century High in Eldersburg, recalling one of his first assignments with Sturgill & Associates, a downtown Westminster firm.

A trial balance?

"That's when you consolidate balance statements and make the adjustments," he said, looking to one of the firm's accountants for confirmation.

Picking up the lingo -- and getting the numbers to add up -- is part of Rallo's internship, arranged through a new program being offered by Carroll County public schools.

Called the Academy of Finance, the program is part of a national push to interest more students in business careers such as accounting, financial planning and banking. It's part of the national Academy of Finance, established in 1982, which has programs at about 275 high schools nationwide.

Carroll began offering the program, which is limited to juniors and seniors, this past spring. Students take several classes -- on subjects such as software applications, such as Excel and PowerPoint, and accounting -- at their home schools. After completing the accounting course, students can earn college credit through Carroll Community College by passing an exam.

During the spring semester of their junior year, students spend three hours each day at Westminster High taking a finance course that covers topics such as economics, banking, securities and insurance, according to Jean Redmond, a business education teacher who instructs the class.

During their senior year, students take a course in financial planning and international finance at Westminster High as well as a financial management course at Carroll Community College.

Students who maintain at least a 94 percent attendance rate and a 2.5 grade point average can qualify for an internship during the summer between their junior and senior years. They must work 240 hours -- at $6 an hour -- during the internship to earn two credits and a grade toward graduation.

Those who complete all the components of the program, including the internship and the college course, can earn certification from the National Academy Foundation, which spearheads three such efforts -- the academies of finance, information technology, and hospitality and tourism.

Local program organizers and students hope the foundation's certification will look good on college and job applications.

"To get it says to the world that you've taken the rigorous curriculum dictated by the national Academy of Finance," said Mike Shank, vice president of commercial banking for BB&T Bank in Carroll County and a member of the school system's finance academy advisory board. "Having this certificate will give colleges a better understanding of a student's commitment to business."

The academy enrolled 18 juniors and seniors in its first semester. Organizers placed 11 students in internships with area employers such as Legg Mason in Baltimore and the Carroll County government.

The internship is an important component of the program because it gives students an opportunity to get an early glimpse into the finance industry and a chance to work alongside business professionals, Redmond said.

Redmond works closely with employers, who must submit a training plan, to make sure the students will have a substantive experience.

"One of the reasons the [national Academy of Finance] requires it to be a paid internship is [out of concern] that if it's not paid, sometimes the work is not as meaningful," Redmond said.

While Rallo said he is not sure exactly what kind of work he'd like to do after college, the internship is giving him a greater appreciation for the work world.

"It has been different getting up at 6:30 in the morning to work during the summer," he said. "And I've been doing a lot of different types of things, such as bookkeeping, auditing balance sheets and writing business letters."

Working alongside the accountants is also helping him discover what it takes to get started in the field.

For instance, he now knows that to get a degree in accounting he would have to earn 150 college credit hours -- five years of college instead of the typical four years. And that he'd have to pass the grueling 14-hour Uniform CPA Exam to become a certified public accountant like John P. Myers Jr., an accountant at Sturgill & Associates.

"This gives them good ideas before getting into college about whether this is what they'd like to do," said Myers, who is a member of the academy's advisory council.

"And what's to say some of these students won't come back to this community" to work full-time for one of these employers again?

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