This week, 60 students were the first class to graduate from a St. Paul Public Schools high school program focused on finance. But the future of the Academy of Finance is in question after a major grant ended.
The academy is housed at Como Park Senior High School, but it draws students from all over St Paul where they learn accounting, information technology, business and leadership skills. It's the only one of its kind in the state, partially paid for by the U.S. Department of Labor and the St. Paul office of Travelers Insurance. But the $4 million four-year Labor Department grant is ending, so the program may have to be scaled back.
William Toney, 18, is one of the recent graduates. He wants to be in the music business some day. During his four years at the academy, he worked at a credit union, visited the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, and taught his family the difference between a credit card and debit card.
"I didn't realize how many people didn't understand the difference. And I didn't realize that I didn't fully know the difference either, at that time," he said. "And so it was cool to watch everyone grow, and experience those things with me, but also apply them to the real world as they were happening, because these things ... my older brother didn't know, until he was in his 20s."
That kind of education is why the program needs to continue, said Kris Sommerville, coordinator at the Academy of Finance at Como.
"No one comes in going 'I want to be an accountant' ever, but then they take the class and go 'wow, I need to understand that to take my business to the next step.' The music industry, that's a business. Sports, that's a business," said Sommerville. "And then it starts clicking, that 'wow, I need to understand business.' "
This summer, Toney will work for the U.S. Forest Service, and in the fall, he'll be attending Minneapolis Community and Technical College, studying sound arts.
"We're out the gates on the other side, and now, I mean, the future is in our hands in a way," he said. "I hope in the future, someday, I can make a nice amount of money and donate to it, and still be a part of it."