Josh Atkinson is a high school senior and class valedictorian with a passion for filmmaking and skateboarding. The 17-year-old also is a quick study in the tactics of Ben Bernanke and fellow Federal Reserve economic titans.
“Yes,” said Atkinson, smiling. “I have a better understanding of how the economy works.”
Octavio Sosa, 18, said he now knows more about how the Federal Reserve operates to go along with a more informed sense of how to keep his credit history polished.
Atkinson, Sosa and 22 other high school seniors from seven urban Kansas City area schools had the distinction of serving over the past school year on the first student board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has had a similar program for high schoolers for several years and is the only other regional Fed bank to have one, Fed officials say.
Students were selected for the Kansas City board based on academic standing — the top 30 percent of their class before and during the program’s duration — and involvement in extracurricular activities in and out of school. Candidates also were assigned to write an essay, accompanied by a recommendation from a teacher or school administrator.
Meeting monthly since September, the board members learned about financial responsibility, business, career planning and, of course, how the Federal Reserve operates.
The teen’s tutors included Fed staff members, from economists to bank vault employees who keep track of the nation’s cash, and Esther George, the president of the Kansas City Fed. George presided over the board’s graduation ceremony April 11 after delivering a speech in New York that morning.
Why is this program important to the Kansas City Fed?
“We think it is critical that you understand how to go about making decisions about money,” George told the students at the closing ceremony. “Just like the Federal Reserve, your decisions will affect your community and the economy.”
Over the course of the year, the students absorbed much information about the big picture of recessions, recoveries and the interconnectedness of the global economy.
But there were many microlessons as well.
“I learned about how to deal with money and how to save,” said DaVonte Hammond, 17, who wants to study civil engineering in college.
Organizers also devised a series of activities to keep the program lively, including a visit to the Sprint Center, where the students got a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what’s involved in running the arena during an event.
Jazmin McDaniel said the year at the Fed has better prepared her to go on to college as a business major. The program expanded her leadership and speaking skills, she said, and “made me more interested in economics.”
Now that the inaugural program at the Fed is over, some of the teens are trying to recruit next year’s board and hoping to land paid summer jobs at the Fed.
Future Ben Bernankes?
As George told the teens, “I expect to see some of you working at the Federal Reserve someday.”