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TESS VIGELAND: Most students learn about Wall Street in a single, one-semester class: economics. If you’re lucky, you might do a few stock market simulations, craft an imaginary portfolio. But imagine going to a high school where the entire focus is on helping you get a career in finance. Sounds great, until you remember that careers in finance went into free-fall after those who had careers in finance got the whole economy into a spot of trouble. So how do those students feel about their chosen path now?
We have a report from Rachel Krantz of Youth Radio.
Rachel Krantz: Right next to the American Stock Exchange building is the High School of Economics and Finance. And for most of the students at this school, Wall Street isn’t just their neighbor — it’s their potential employer, like senior Makeeda Loney.
Makeeda Loney: I do like to make money and the aspect of making money interested me. So I thought maybe if I came here, I would learn more about the business world, which I have.
More than 800 students attend this New York public high school. The school doesn’t keep numbers about how many students end up on Wall Street. But they have academic requirements to prepare students for a career in finance, like taking a class every year on topics ranging from macroeconomics to personal finance.
Hiro Shinohara is a former stock trader who teaches social studies. He says most students at the school don’t come from a wealthy background.
Hiro Shinohara: We are a Title I school, which means that over half of our students — in fact, 75 percent of our students come from homes where their yearly income less than $15,000 a year. They’re barely surviving; these are families that are going paycheck to paycheck. And with the recession, I think there’s no question that it’s hitting these families the hardest.
So why do these students want to enter a world that in some ways hurt theirs? A lot of families have watched their savings evaporate over the last two years.
Shinohara: I think students are a little worried, and that stress and concerns about money that perhaps they have at home, that they bring to school, as teachers we certainly feel that.
But he says these students have something that a lot of young people don’t have: the school has helped them develop the confidence to ask questions about money, about the economy, about the direction of Wall Street. Take sophomore Shatiek Gatlin. He talks a lot about money with his family.
Shatiek Gatlin: I think it’s more me thinking they could have done something better, or me even speaking out and saying, “We don’t really need this,” or “You could have handled that situation with buying another pair of shoes” or whatever the case may be, a little different.
He’s says that the school has made him smart about money; smart enough to express his opinions to his parents, though they don’t always listen to his advice.
Gatlin: Sometimes they do consider, but majority of the time, you know, they’re the parents, so they’re going to do what they want regardless.
Sounds like a complaint that parents usually have about teenagers. But the students here seem to enjoy having those adult conversations. Plus, they say the school has prepared them for life in this economy. And senior Makeeda Loney says she knows how to live within her means.
Loney: From freshman year, I used to spend all the money that I got, but now I’ve learned to save half the money that I have and spend half, so I always have some backup in case I need to do something else. I actually do have it hidden in my room in cash that I don’t want to say right now.
Makeeda says the school didn’t just help her look at herself, it helped her look at Wall Street, too. It gave her an intimate look at Wall Street’s collapse, and the loss of jobs and income that followed. Makeeda says she saw the effects on her subway ride to school.
Loney: I do notice the people that walk around every day when I come to school on the train. Like I do notice that they have on their nice suits and their nice briefcases and stuff like that. But I also do notice, freshman year was a bit more packed than coming up to senior year now. That even though I do leave at the same time, it’s not as crowded as it used to be.
But she and her fellow students say they’re still excited about careers in business. Just listen to senior Gabriel Munoz. Ask him about the future of Wall Street and you’ll hear the confidence in his voice.
Gabriel Munoz: People are still going to make money on Wall Street. President Barack Obama gave a State of the Union where he stated that banks needed more regulation, and yeah, definitely I agree with that. We can’t make the same mistakes. Every time we have a crisis, it’s going to get worse and we’ll probably need to bail out more banks, so by changing the rules and how the game is played hopefully will get things back on track and get this economy running.
Gabriel says after everything that’s happened, he still wants a job on a trading floor as a stock broker. And he wouldn’t trade that future for anything.
Munoz: Every single time I get off the train and I see Wall Street, I just get the chills, ’cause it’s amazing to walk through this area.
In New York, I’m Rachel Krantz for Marketplace Money.
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