Five seniors from Hyde Park High School walked onto the stage of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's auditorium last spring to compete in the regional round of the Fed Challenge. Lovern Augustine, Andy Beepath, Chazmaine Carroll, Richard Petit-frere, and Debbie Williams had spent the past three months working with their teacher, Sheila Azores, to prepare themselves for the task at hand.
Seated in the audience were Boston Fed President Cathy Minehan, Boston School Superintendent Thomas Payzant, and a crowd of more than two hundred friends, family members, educators, and Boston Fed employees. But if the five kids from Hyde Park High were nervous, they didn't show it. The months of research, coaching, and intense effort had reinforced their confidence in themselves. Now it all came down to a twenty minute presentation followed by questions from a panel of judges that included four distinguished economists and the president of a Boston financial firm.
The competition was going to be tough. Three other teams -- South Boston High School, Canton (MA) High School, and the Urban Scholars Program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston -- had all worked hard, prepared well, and wanted to make it to the national round of the Fed Challenge in Washington, D.C.
The Fed Challenge is intended to make students more knowledgeable about America's central bank and its role in the economy, while helping them hone their critical thinking, research, and presentation skills. The program calls for high school social studies, economics, and business classes to conduct research, analyze economic data, and recommend a specific course for monetary policy. A five-member team then presents the class's recommendations to a panel of judges in a format based on a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's monetary policy arm.
Developed and piloted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 1995, Fed Challenge went nationwide in 1996. Hyde Park High School won the regional round in the Boston Federal Reserve District and went on to face teams from the Dallas, New York, and Richmond Districts in the finals at the Fed's Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. on April 30.
The team from Texas took first place in the national round, but all the participants -- team members, teachers, coaches, judges, and Fed employees -- came away from the experience feeling like winners. Hyde Park High teacher Sheila Azores said, "The experience was one that teachers would have in 'teacher heaven,' because in 'teacher heaven' students and teachers would be equal partners in discovery."
Ms. Azores' official title at Boston's Hyde Park High School is "Academy of Finance Support Specialist," but during the three months of preparation for the Fed Challenge she was also a guide, a team builder, and a coach. "The kids and I were equal team members in a new and exploratory research-based project."
The initial challenge she faced was to take new and different material and make it interesting to her students. She knew that it was important for them to see the connection to their own lives. But that didn't take long to happen. "The more we worked," says Ms. Azores, "the more we wanted to work. The more we found out, the more we wanted to find out."
Talk to Sheila Azores for any length of time, and one thing becomes apparent: She is modest about her own efforts and quick to share the credit for her team's success. She'll tell you that she helped to engage the students' interest and focus their efforts, but "the rest was the kids. We were an excellent match." She also has high praise for Jeffrey Fuhrer, a Boston Fed vice president and economist, who served as outside adviser and coach to the Hyde Park High School team. "Jeff allows people to see the connections between things," says Azores, "Everything he talks about has an impact on something else." (See page 3 for Jeffrey Fuhrer's observations on the Fed Challenge.) She points out that one of the benefits of participating in the Fed Challenge was the opportunity to "interact with people who were practicing what we were trying to master."
When asked if winning the competition was important to her, Ms. Azores acknowledged that, "Winning was an exhilarating experience. Winning meant that we had mastered the lesson." But she hastens to add that she was proud of the kids even before they had won and says that the Fed Challenge is the type of experience that makes teaching worthwhile. "You guide, you direct, and then you enjoy watching students move beyond you."
For information on the Fed Challenge, contact Deborah Bloomberg, Public and Community Affairs Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, P.O. Box 2076, Boston, MA 02210; phone (617) 973-3512; or e-mail.
First District Teams, Fed Challenge '96
Although only one team went to Washington, D.C. for the national finals, all the Fed Challenge '96 participants performed admirably and earned the respect of everyone who witnessed their efforts.
Canton High School, Canton, Massachusetts
Team Instructor: Judith Heine
Paul Donovan (alternate)
Hyde Park High School Academy of Finance,
Team Instructor: Sheila Azores
South Boston High School, Boston, Massachusetts
Team Instructor: James Williams
Luzia Cardosa (alternate)
Maria Figueroa (alternate)
Urban Scholars Program at University
Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Team Instructor: Winston Chiong
Arnold Chamanlal, Dorchester High School (alternate)
Kurtis DuVal, South Boston High School
Amie Fye, Dorchester High School
Marina Grullon, Dorchester High School
Erind Hakani, South Boston High School
Vernessa Saltibus, Dorchester High School