Melbourne High School’s Academy of Business and Finance is one of more than 50 career and specialty programs at high schools throughout Brevard County preparing tomorrow’s work force, whether they’re headed for a university, a vocational college or straight into the broader job market.
One of several focused-curriculum areas at Melbourne High where South Barrier Island residents attend classes, the business academy opened its doors in 1997 and now serves 70 freshmen to seniors. The academy aims to teach students how to be accountants, chief financial officers and even entrepreneurs, as well as how to budget and handle their personal finances.
“My goal is to treat the students in here more like applicants in a business incubator program than students in a classroom listening to a teacher go on and on,” academy director Jake Schweich said.
In his second year teaching – and first at Melbourne High – Schweich is breathing new life into a program that had stagnated as business modernized. He especially wants those students in the academy who are not considering college to know that, with a business background, they can do anything.
“The idea is to put them in a different environment where they are with a cohort and will maybe change their minds about college,” he said, noting that like many of the specialty programs, students in the business academy take several of their classes together.
Chad Lemke, a junior at Melbourne who lives in Melbourne Beach, sees the business academy as a way to get a step up on financial planning and, possibly, a career. “Even if I don’t go into anything with business or finance I still have a lot of knowledge on how to handle my money or other’s money if needed,” Lemke said.
Lemke dreams of playing baseball in college, but he said he’ll also likely focus on a career in business, maybe as a stockbroker or entrepreneur.
Schweich points out that the business academy, like many of the academy programs throughout the county, teaches students skills relevant to many different career fields, as well as preparing them for college.
“If the person running the business doesn’t understand how bookkeeping works, that’s where problems happen,” Schweich said.
Lemke and his freshman classmates earned certifications in MS word, Excel, Power Point, Access and Outlook. “That’s just something I fell like I’m always going to use whether it’s creating inventory in a job later or in my own finances,” he said.
As students progress through the academy they focus on things like economics, marketing, personal and business finance and accounting. Students also learn leadership and management skills.
Schweich, 39, worked in the business world before returning to college in 2013 to finish his degree and become more marketable as a manager. But a family friend encouraged him to think about teaching as a way to work toward his ultimate goal of running a ranch for disadvantaged youth.
“I look at this as an opportunity to take what I learned in the business world and pass this on to the students,” Schweich said.
The U.S. Department of Labor says career fields like statistics, software development, applications development, information security analysis and operations research analysis are among the fastest growing in the country.
Schweich hopes he can convince local and state officials to modernize the business academy curriculum to be geared toward more of those areas. He’d especially like to see programming added in order to help students better understand the automation and software engineering behind business and finance. Understanding every aspect of what makes a business tick, he said, is critical for both entry-level employees and CEOs.
Story by: Jan Wesner Childs