The prestigious New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark has consistently opened its doors to the student community of Union City, offering a vast selection of college-level courses for high schoolers seeking an academic challenge and college credit.
Last month, students from Emerson High School completed a 10-week course on the basics of economics, which was offered under NJIT's Pre-College Academy. The academy is funded by a tuition fee paid by the school district, as well partial scholarships awarded to the students.
"We don't have economics at Emerson, and I wanted to learn about the field and get a different perspective," said Vivian Ortiz, 18, a senior.
"I wanted to try something new not just the regular sciences, and I have taken chemistry at NJIT before," said Deepen Desai, 18, a senior. "It sets up a good environment, and you know what to expect from college when you're ready to go. It's challenging, but it's rewarding."
Preparing for tomorrow
Over 10 weeks, Dr. Stephen Kaifa taught these students the fundamentals of economics, which is the management of resources like time, money, and credit, and how they affect the family and society.
In addition to the basic book and test curriculum, students read the newspaper and learned to communicate utilizing economic jargon.
"I get these students with no economics background at all, and by the end of the semester, I see a big change in their abilities," said Kaifa. "They soak everything up, and understand how business works, how the government works, and how economics [in general] works."
"I learned how to manage money, how money works, and how the government and the economy works," said Mary Helena, 16, senior, who has also taken physics at NJIT. "I can use the college credit for whatever college I go to."
Kaifa, who has been teaching in the W.E. Dubois Summer Program at Princeton University, also runs the Center for Education at the County College of Morristown in Randolph, N.J.
"I have taught economics in that program to similar students for the past five years, and [at the center] I teach high school teachers how to teach economics to high school students," said Kaifa. "Many are from minority, immigrant backgrounds, and it's very useful to have this skill."
Importance of economics
According to Kaifa, who has an extensive background in economics and written textbooks on the subject, economics should be part of a standard school curriculum just as math or English are. He said if it weren't for these extracurricular programs offered by institution like NJIT, students would never be exposed to the basic workings of society.
"If you don't have this business literacy in economics, how do you survive in a capitalist society?" asked Kaifa. "[Some] don't understand the importance of economics."
Since economics is considered a college-level course, some secondary schools may offer it as an advanced or honors class. But not every school has been able to offer the option.
"This is why my center trains teachers," said Kaifa. "I believe all students should take at least one course of economics in their lives, and that all high schools should have an economics program."
Worth giving up a Saturday
Many of these courses offered at NJIT, including economics, are held on Saturday mornings starting at 8 a.m. But for Emerson students who wake up to catch the bus to Newark, it's a small price to pay.
"It offers things that the school itself does not provide, and it allows you to go beyond the regular curriculum of school," said Raguraguvan Sreetharan, 17, a senior. "I see myself studying economics as part of my major."
"It's the best experience any student can have, especially coming from an urban community," said Ortiz. "If it wasn't for the NJIT courses I took, I wouldn't have gotten accepted on an early application to Boston University. That was a great Christmas present for me."
Some of the students in the program have also gone on to attend NJIT upon graduation.
"Union City for us continues to provide a crop of exceptional students who always do very well," said Diana Muldrow, coordinator for the academy.
For more information call Diana Muldrow at (973) 596-3679 or Carlomagno Ontaneda at (973) 596-5832.