By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
MONTICELLO, NY — Quick: can you do your taxes? On time? Make a budget? Keep to a budget? And what do you do when life changes, suddenly, horribly and expensively?
You’d know how if you attended the Academy of Finance at Monticello High School.
“It’s part of a national program, the National Academy of Finance,” said Sue Bahrenburg, the local program’s director and a CPA, said. “It’s been here [in Monticello High School] for over 20 years. The district sees value in the program.”
The Academy of Finance not only teaches kids how to manage their money, it also provides real-world mentors and connects the students to the business community. Those ties could change their lives.
The young people “learn about the power of networking,” Bahrenburg said, “they get help with job applications, college applications, and they can maintain this relationship after graduation.”
The financial-management training is solidly real-world: the students earn money in paid internships in the summer after their junior years, with the variety of businesses that have signed on with the program. “I support both sides and make it a valuable experience,” said Bahrenburg. “The opportunity is there for growth and local employers have been invaluable.”
Those employers represent a variety of businesses, from Catskill Veterinary Services to the Jeff Bank. It’s tremendous—and paid— work experience.
The students earn money and keep track of it over the summer. “They learn financial decision-making,” she said. “The kids say, ‘Everyone needs to do this.’ Those are real-life skills they’re learning.”
Of course, there are hurdles. The adults in their lives have created habits and those habits are passed on; it can be hard to unlearn them.
But often not: “They don’t want to go down that road,” Bahrenburg said. “They build a deep relationship with money. They get why they should pay their credit card bills.” They learn to save, not spend.
Not that this is easy; life throws wrenches into the works. Some students use their carefully saved money to pay for a parent’s bills. Maybe a car breaks down. Maybe there’s a health emergency. You pay for it and then gamely start over.
“It’s not a judgment call,” she said. “How do you deal?”
What’s obvious is that she’s proud of the Academy of Finance graduates. Ninety-eight percent of program participants m go on to college and all have learned something critically important.
“They can shine, they can help their community,” she said. “I feel like when they step out of here, they’re ready.”