Students in the Academy of Finance at Howard County's Applications and Research Laboratory now have the entire financial world before them.
The academy unveiled a new data center at the Ellicott City school Friday — one that includes a New York Stock Exchange ticker, giving the students live, up-to-the-minute information about the markets they're studying.
"The opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange is one of the most exciting sounds in the American landscape," Superintendent Renee Foose said. "This is a wonderful, wonderful thing."
The unveiling of the ticker, part of a new data center in the academy, "embodies our strategic plan," Foose said.
"This is a curriculum that provides engaging, relevant learning experiences both beyond and in the classroom," she said. "It helps students develop essential skills such as innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking. It allows students to have real-world opportunities. That's what this is doing. I couldn't be more proud to be here today."
The data center, particularly the stock ticker, will give students "real-time information and feedback on economic trends," said Board of Education Chairwoman Ellen Giles.
"They'll have hands-on practice in investing and portfolio management," she said. "I can't think of a more relevant way to get students to connect what they learn in class to matters in the real world."
The students in the academy learn more than "how to invest wisely and track market investment," Giles said.
"A powerful combination of advanced-level instruction, industry exposure, interaction with field professionals and practical applications give students a head-start to success in college and a rewarding career," she said.
The academy's partnerships are vital to that goal, Giles said. While the data center was provided by the Howard County Public School System, other initiatives are through partnerships and funding from groups like the Bright Minds Foundation, which provided a grant for financial literacy classes in county middle schools. Academy juniors and seniors have written financial literacy lesson plans, and will be working with Towson University students to give workshops to middle-schoolers. That initiative is being funded by Capital One through Bright Minds. Towson will also help provide additional professional development for middle-school teachers, with the Academy of Finance. That's being funded by the Maryland Council on Economic Education.
"The strengths of the Academy of Finance lie in partnerships with the business community," said Maddy Halbach, academy instructor. "These partnerships bring exciting experiences and opportunities for our students to apply their new-learned skills."
Many of those business partners were on hand for the stock ticker's ribbon-cutting last week, as academy senior Grant Toeneboehn rang the "opening bell."
"The financial center has brought to realization how volatile the markets can be, and how exciting it is to participate in it," he said.
For example, Toeneboehn said, when Federal Reserve System Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently announced changes to the federal bond-buying program, students were able to see instantly the impact the decision had on the market.
"Understanding the complexities of our markets has become even more important for our youth, as we strive to make better financial decisions and compete in an ever-increasing global society," Halbach said. "A financial center for the Academy of Finance not only compliments what we are diligently trying to teach, but also extends our ability to do so."
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ARL Principal Andrew Cockley said the stock ticker and data center will give students real-time access to data around the world.
"They'll be able to access that information, analyze it and watch the impact it has on the markets in real time," he said. "It's going to really enrich the discussions."
Desmond Morrison, a senior at Reservoir High School in Fulton and second-year academy student, said the new stock ticker "will help us out a lot when it comes to looking at and analyzing economic data."
"I'm really excited about it," he said. "I've always been interested in finance my whole life. I'm very good at math, and I like applying math so I can help people out. Finance was a natural fit for me."
Alicia Kong, a financial adviser with ING and chair of the academy's advisory board, said the board was excited by the new data center, and hopes more students take advantage of what the academy has to offer.
"I know how technology and the stock market are integral to learning in real-time and understanding how what goes on in the world changes the stock market," she said. "We are elated and excited for this, for the current and future students to come and be a part of this."