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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Taking Stock of Learning: Students Go to Wall Street for Economics Education

A New York City high school partners with downtown businesses to develop sophisticated financial-literacy skills.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

New York's High School of Economics and Finance is making learning a real-world experience. Located in the heart of Manhattan's financial district, the school has teamed with Wall Street firms to create a program that extends its students' education well beyond the classroom.

Throughout the school year, Wall Street firms host small groups of students and teachers at their work sites, where they can learn more about how individual companies are run. Professionals mentor students one-on-one to help them succeed in school and move toward careers.

Each week, students attend seminars, field trips, and workshops as part of the Sanford I. Weill Institute for Lifelong Learning, many of which are led by business executives from the fields of economics and finance. Students choose from a menu of seminar options, such as Running a Wall Street Firm and The International Marketplace. Seminars are held either on the school site or at nearby businesses on an eight-week cycle, so students have the opportunity to explore interests in many areas.

The school's 700 students, who come from all of New York City's five boroughs, are immersed in economics and finance from day one. Freshmen take Welcome to Wall Street and Financial Research and Communications to learn about key concepts like supply and demand and important skills such as how to read stock and bond tables.

They also learn about how to start up a small business. To help students appreciate the importance of economics in all aspects of society, teachers incorporate key economic concepts into regular academic subjects. Students later follow a curriculum developed by the Academy of Finance, a national program for financial education, which includes a series of courses such as World of Finance, Banking and Credit, and International Finance.

The school's calendar accommodates innovative learning experiences. For example, in an activity called the Virtual Enterprise, seniors spend an entire day each week in a special suite equipped with video teleconferencing and computing equipment to create and run a virtual business. They develop a business plan with budget and sales projections, then sell their services to six other New York City schools involved in the program. This year's class created a firm called Senior Investors that provides portfolio management and pension investment services to employees of the other virtual firms.

To learn the skills they'll need to succeed in the future, all students participate in several work experiences as a requirement for graduation. Before they begin these internships, students take a two-part course developed with help from the school's business partners, where they learn about workplace protocol and etiquette. After completing the course, students participate in 120 hours of community service, followed by a 120-hour unpaid internship at a company or agency.

"These first internships are designed so that students can learn workplace skills before they are paid, as well as to promote good citizenship," explains Principal Susan Ewen. During their last two years, students complete a 240-hour paid internship, where they often work at the level of employed professionals at different companies. "Companies are eager to get our students and feel they make a real contribution," says Ewen.

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