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NEW YORK -- Five miles north of Wall Street, a small financial advisory firm, Synergy M&A, has been working on dozens of headline-grabbing deals, including AT&T's recent $39 billion bid for T-Mobile USA.
But the 27 deal makers hashing out terms and dissecting numbers are high school seniors on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Synergy M&A is the trade name of the business and entrepreneurship class at Martin Luther King, Jr., High School of the Arts and Technology. For the last year, Christina Feng, 25, has taught the intricacies of Wall Street deals. Recently, her students have analyzed some of the world's largest mergers and acquisitions.
"A lot of high schoolers complain about having all these classes, and it's like, how can I relate to this?" said Mariangely Gonzales, a senior. "But this class directly affects me."
"To understand the business world is to understand your life," added student Hector Cabrera.
Ms. Feng's M&A workshop is not unique. The High School of Economics and Finance, a public school in Lower Manhattan, offers courses in banking, accounting, and financial mathematics. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania recently introduced a Web-based project called Knowledge@Wharton High School to promote financial literacy among students and teachers.
But few other classes have taken to deal making with the gusto of Synergy M&A. In recent weeks, Ms. Feng has quizzed her students on stock ownership, esoteric financial terms like "par value," and potential interest rates for borrowers.
"I want to open up my own bake shop one day, so knowing this information is good for me," said senior Jessica Anderson.
Many students are Hispanic and African-American and from low-income families, and Ms. Feng said few had been exposed to corporate finance and investment banking. Now, they learn to track stock movements and analyze corporate earnings reports -- some of the same tasks done by entry-level analysts at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. "Finance has a lot of upper middle-class, affluent, white people in it," said Ms. Feng. "It's a field that traditionally not a lot of my students would feel they could break into."
The class splits its time between a retail business and its deal advisory projects. Recently, one group of students studied the long-term viability of deep discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Another did a case study of Mercedes-Benz's failed acquisition of Chrysler in 1998. Danny Rivera, a senior, was scrolling through reports to better understand AT&T's offer for T-Mobile. "I'm up in the air," he said. "A merger would be better for the service, but T-Mobile customers won't benefit because they'll lose their cost-efficient plans."
Last year, Ms. Feng arranged a classroom visit by Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO. A scheduling conflict forced him to cancel. Ms. Feng extended an invitation to Robert E. Diamond, CEO of Barclays. "When I got her e-mail, I almost jumped over it," said Mr. Diamond.
"Frankly, I was stunned," said Mr. Diamond. "What really impressed me was how knowledgeable kids with no background had become in this subject area. To me, that's what teaching is all about."
Many of the employees of Synergy M&A are headed for colleges next year, but few planned to study business or finance. Mr. Diamond offered to reserve several Barclays internships, which typically take place after a student's junior year of college, for graduates of the class. To Ms. Feng, it indicates some of her students could end up on Wall Street. "We're proving a lot of people wrong."