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The spotlight is on the Academy of Finance

Feb. 12, 2018

Senior members of the Academy of Finance gatherSenior members of the Monticello High School Academy of Finance (AOF) were a bit tense this particular Monday afternoon. They were working on their IRS certification that will allow them to prepare tax returns as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

This is the 11th year the Monticello High School AOF has participated in this program, which provides free tax preparation for community members making $54,000 or less. This year, there are 29 students, according to their mentor and moderator Susan Bahrenburg. The fact that these students have given so much of their time and studied diligently to be part of this effort to help the community, they are the recipients of this month’s spotlight.

Bahrenburg brought the program to Monticello after hearing about it at the national AOF conference 12 years ago.

“Every summer there is an AOF conference where teachers share their best practices,” said Bahrenburg, herself a certified public accountant. “Someone shared about the VITA program and I was confident our students could get certified.”

Susan Bahrenburg talks to her students before they take their test.The rest is history.

This year, there are 29 seniors on a quest for their VITA certification. After learning the tax laws, the students go online and take three IRS tests. They must score 80 or better in order to pass. The test they were taking on Monday was the last – and toughest – of the three, Bahrenburg said.

“They will all get there,” she said confidently.

Anna Bittinger was the first to finish the test successfully this day. She said she was interested in this project, in part, because she saw all of the certifications displayed last year and wanted to be a part of it.

“Just the fact that I can now do my own taxes is great,” said Anna. “The fact that I can help people in the community get their tax returns is a big plus. It’s really beneficial all around.”

The experience is a good one for Anna who hopes to attend Ithaca College in the fall and major in business administration with a concentration in accounting.

Raymond Reynolds also wants to major in business administration at possibly Oswego or Buff State. He is now ready to start preparing tax returns. He, too, successfully completed his certification and said he is looking forward to helping the community with their tax returns.

“It’ll be a new experience, but the seniors last year told us what to expect,” he added.

Students are seen taking their IRS certification test.The students began providing their tax services on Feb. 8 and appointments are available until April 13 on selected days. All work is done at the high school. Bahrenburg hopes they go past their total last year of 196 clients.

“It was the most we’ve ever done,” she said. “We are hoping to break 200 this year.”

Bahrenburg, who teaches Financial Decision Making, Financial Accounting and International Business at the high school, oversees all of the tax preparation with fellow teacher Eric Shewmaker. The two review all of the returns for accuracy before e-filing.

Bahrenburg said the community has embraced this program and is tremendously grateful.

“Last year, one client was brought to tears talking about how valuable this was,” said Bahrenburg. “People realize that these kids are choosing to help their community. And they are grateful.”

The newly-minted tax preparers cannot take tips, but they are thanked in other ways. Like with pizza, cookies, candy and fruit that many clients bring. Not to mention the satisfaction they get from helping their own community.

For more information about the tax return program or to make an appointment, call 845-794-8840, ext. 10849.