CFA Institute cuts ribbon on CHS classroom, celebrates new partnership

On Tuesday, leaders of Charlottesville City Schools and CFA Institute appeared at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a classroom at the center of a new strategic partnership. 

A global financial credentialing association headquartered in Charlottesville, CFA Institute recently donated $50,000 to modernize the classroom used by Charlottesville High School’s AVID program and its Student Investment Group.

AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a national academic readiness program designed to support students who would be the first in their families to attend college. 

Eric Irizarry, CHS principal, said 94 percent of seniors in AVID this year already have been admitted to a four-year college. “We will get to 100 [percent] — it is only February,” Irizarry said. 

The classroom enhancements paid for by CFA Institute include transparent dry-erase boards, a touch screen display, new laptops for shared use and chairs and tables that can be moved, folded and recombined.

“It’s opened up a lot more possibilities for collaboration,” said Brian Kayser, AVID coordinator at CHS. “It lets us create the perfect environment for whatever we are doing. … Students feel greater ownership of the space.”

As a finishing touch, CHS installed an LED screen outside the classroom that can display the AVID program’s latest college acceptances or a stock ticker for the Student Investment Group.

CHS senior Dyshe Smith said the AVID program has pushed her to enroll in honors and AP courses, helped her boost her SAT score by 420 points and taught her valuable organizational skills. 

“If you’re ever looking for me [at CHS], I’ll be in the AVID room,” said Smith, who will attend Howard University in the fall.

At the AVID program’s Project . pitch competition earlier this month, Smith and classmate Malaysia Brice won $1,000 in funding from CFA Institute to develop My College Toolbox, a mobile app that would help high school students track their progress on each of their college applications.

CFA Institute has pledged another $82,100 to fund a new finance academy initiative at CHS. The organization will provide licensed educational materials to personal finance classes and facilitate seminars, workshops, stock market simulations and a three-day financial summer camp. 

“CFA Institute is an excellent example of the vast expertise in the Charlottesville community,” Irizarry said.

CFA Institute was Charlottesville’s fifth-largest private employer in 2015, with more than 450 employees. 

“You could say we are Charlottesville’s best-kept secret,” said Paul Smith, CFA Institute’s president and CEO. “It pains me that we are not better known.” 

Smith said CFA Institute’s Charlottesville employees take pride in the organization’s contributions to the community. “There is immense value in that,” he said. 

Smith said supporting financial education in public schools was vital to improving the nation’s economic health. In 2016, the Economic Policy Institute reported that half of American families had no savings in a retirement account. 

Smith told students at Tuesday’s ceremony that financial institutions needed to recruit a more diverse workforce in order to achieve better outcomes. 

“Don’t ever think that [a career in finance] beyond you,” Smith said. “Everybody in this room is more than capable of having a leadership role.”

“In finance, too much of our time is spent in rooms filled with old, crusty men,” Smith joked. “It’s a huge pleasure to be among young people with hope, excitement and zest for the future.”

CFA Institute began collaborating with CHS through the school’s Student Investment Group in 2016. That year, the club took fourth place at the KWHS-Aberdeen Investment Competition, an international investment strategy contest for high school students sponsored by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Aberdeen Asset Management.

The Student Investment Group has since raised a nonprofit endowment of more than $25,000 and has awarded $2,500 in grants to the Charlottesville Food Justice Network. 

“CFA Institute wanted to make investing and entrepreneurship a culture at CHS, and not just an anomaly,” said CHS senior Lucas Higgins, the founder and president of the CHS Student Investment Group.

“Now the Student Investment Group will be able to continue after I leave — and on a much grander scale.”