N.Y.C. Academy Prepares Students for Jobs on Wall Street
New York--For the past six weeks, 35 students and five of their teachers from John Dewey High School in Brooklyn have joined the throngs of workers commuting to jobs here from throughout the metropolitan area.
Their destination: Manhattan's financial district, known worldwide as the center of the banking and financial-services industries.
As paid summer employees of Shearson/American Express Inc., a conglomerate that runs one of the nation's leading brokerage firms, both the students and the teachers have been learning firsthand about the world of finance. Prior to this work experience, none of the students had ever had as intimate a view of the dealings that occur on Wall Street.
To Evan Gilder, one of the student interns, "business seemed so complicated. You hear about Dow Jones on the news, but you don't know what it means."
He and the others are part of the Academy of Finance, a pilot program that is being sponsored jointly by the New York City Board of Education and Shearson/American Express. It is believed to be the first specialized school in the nation to attempt to prepare high-school students for careers in the financial-services industry.
The program was initiated last year with a $200,000 two-year grant from the brokerage firm, according to Phyllis Frankfort, the program's director. (The board of education is providing a $50,000 in-kind contribution.)
The students were selected earlier this year based on their academic performance and interest in the program. Classes began in February.
Lack of Women and Minorities
One of the concerns of business executives, Ms. Frankfort said, is the lack of women and minorities entering the financial-services industry. Because of that concern, she said, school officials encourage all students, even those with average grades, to consider enrolling in the program so that there is a mix of participants.
This year, the program will expand to at least four other high schools--Louis D. Brandeis High School in Manhattan, Jamaica High School in Jamaica, Walton High School in the Bronx, and Tottenville High School on Staten Island--and will involve 239 students. During the 1984-85 school year, more than 400 juniors and seniors are expected to participate in the program; eventually, according to Ms. Frankfort, the academy will be housed in one building.
Ellen Smith, program coordinator for Shearson/American Express, said the program is providing a much-needed service to the industry. When she first learned about it, she said, "My first response was 'what took it so long?"'
One of the immediate drawbacks for a program of this type, according to Ms. Frankfort, is that curriculum materials suitable for high-school students do not exist. There also are no certification and licensing standards for finance teachers, she said.
During the spring semester, the students were enrolled in two courses, "the world of finance" and "financial accounting." In addition, the students attended seminars and lectures given by executives from Shearson. The topics included careers in finance, work skills, and the "attitudes necessary for success on the job," according to Ms. Frankfort.
The "unusual partnership" between the school board and Shearson has made it possible, according to Ms. Frankfort, "to bring industry into the classroom and the classroom to industry."
Curriculum writers have been meeting during the summer with Shearson employees, Ms. Frankfort explained, to develop course materials for future classes. "It's a slow and tedious task when you're writing with experts in the field," she said.
"The arrangement is interesting for both students and teachers because they are learning together," said Ms. Smith. "You can't tell who's who."
And the teachers "are just as anxious about the program as the students," she said. "They're getting into an area that's foreign to them."
To some degree, the teachers' involvement in the program as summer interns has served to erase negative stereotypes many business executives have of teachers, according to Ms. Frankfort. People in the industry, she said, have learned to respect the teachers and the responsibilities they have.
"I think perhaps we're also setting an example of how to keep teachers up to date," Ms. Frankfort added. "The industry changes so quickly."
Ms. Frankfort said other brokerage firms are being sought as sponsors for the program. "Shearson doesn't want to have ownership of the program," she added.
New Possibilities for Future
For the students, who are earning $3.71 an hour this summer, the program has opened up new possibilities for the future, according to Ms. Frankfort. They not only receive on-the-job training, but they also improve their understanding of the nation's economic and finance systems.
"These kids have an understanding of business," said Ms. Frankfort, and as a result, their supervisors have been "pleased" with the students' work.
During a typical week, the students work eight hours a day, and they have come to expect weekly visits and progess reports from both Ms. Frankfort and Ms. Smith. Student encounters with Ms. Frankfort often turn into what might be considered an unannounced quiz on commodities, over-the-counter stock trading, or options.
Every Wednesday, the students are required to attend a luncheon seminar, in which Shearson personnel lecture on such topics as how equity orders are transmitted and executed in the firm and how syndication works and its relationship to investment banking.
"There's always something new to learn," said Patrick Berry, a John Dewey senior who has been working in the firm's security clearance department. Because of his job performance, he says he has been asked if he would like to continue working for the department on a part-time basis during the school year. He has not decided whether he will accept the offer.
The students recognize the value of the work experience they are receiving, and some say they intend to return to the firm after they have graduated from high school. About 30 of the students have agreed to continue working an additional two weeks this summer.
Peter Hornecker, another John Dewey senior, said he is grateful for the opportunity to be involved with the program. "Otherwise," he said, "I'd be painting houses with my brother-in-law."