ELEVATE: OKCPS students volunteer to do taxes

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Student helps community member with taxes at John Marshall Mid-High SchoolWhile last-minute filers rush to get their tax forms turned in today, more than 100 Oklahomans can rest easy because they already filed for free with help from students at John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City.

For the past three years, the Finance Academy at John Marshall has partnered with accounting students from the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in Edmond to give high school students the hands-on experience of offering the tax preparation service to residents of the John Marshall community earning $60,000 or less annually.

Beginning in February, students volunteered to stay late three nights a week, almost every week, offering walk-in sessions 4-7:30 p.m. This year, the academy planned to help file 120 to 125 separate tax returns.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister visited the Finance Academy at John Marshall on a recent Tuesday near the end of tax season.

Taking a break from helping people, finance academy student Janae Shelton said she has gained both valuable life skills and a sense of fulfillment from participating in the program for three years straight.

“When I graduate, I’ll know how to do taxes. I get to help people. It’s something I love to do,” Shelton said.

Superintenendent Hofmeister visiting finance academy coordinator, Sharon Marker at John Marshall Mid-High School Finance Academy students receive strategic planning every year before tax season, said Finance Academy coordinator Sharon Marker. But the opportunities offered through the program reach far outside of the first few months of the year.

Students start with a basic overview of finance and gradually gain knowledge at different levels of the academy. Many participate in paid summer internships at partner companies.

“Our goal is, when they graduate, they will have a resume that will stand out from any other high school students,” Marker said.

Students don’t have to wait until the summer to build that resume, since Tinker Federal Credit Union (TFCU) established a student-operated branch inside the high school, in a room just off the cafeteria. In order to work there, students have to apply, be accepted and go through training just like any other entry-level employee at any other TFCU branch.

Through the Finance Academy, companies like TFCU and several neighborhood financial businesses see an opportunity to get involved in their local high school; residents benefit from free tax help; UCO students build mentoring experience; and students pick up a set of universal skills that can give them a boost when they take home their diplomas.

It not only provides a rich opportunity to the school, but it helps build bridges, principal Aspasia Carlson said.

“It’s a win for students, the school, the community and the businesses,” she said.

The Finance Academy is part of the Career Academy program in Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS), which provides four-year career pathway programs in nine high schools through a district partnership with the National Academy Foundation and Metro Technology Centers.

There are six types of academies spread out among the schools, covering engineering, health sciences, information technology, law and public safety, and hospitality and tourism. John Marshall is the only OKCPS high school offering the finance academy.


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Last updated on July 7, 2015