Parents and student workers who need help completing their federal income tax return now have one extra resource: the students from Bowie High School’s business magnet program.
Bowie is the first school in the District to partner with IRS to provide free tax return services to the community.
Bowie Business Academy students have certified to prepare basic income tax forms, thanks to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program administered by the IRS Stakeholder Partnerships Education and Communication (SPEC) department. The program partners with local non-profit entities to provide free income tax preparation and filing services for low- and moderate-income households.
“This program brings project-based learning and community service together for our students,” teacher Jose Ornelas said. “They are learning something that is not going to only benefit others, but themselves as well. It’s a win-win.”
After seeing the success at Del Valle High School, SPEC representative Valeria Medina approached Bowie High School to launch the program with the school’s business magnet students.
“I spoke to Mr. Ornelas, and he was all for it. He said, ‘this would be perfect for my academy students,’” Medina said. “The students have picked up on it really well. They have great questions, and they aren’t afraid to work with the software.”
Students certified online through the Link & Learn Taxes, learning about the return process and tax law covered in the VITA program. They must pass with 80 percent or higher to receive certification.
The partnership allows students to not only help the community but also obtain experience for their future.
“We help them out, in case they need a letter of recommendation. This looks good on their college applications,” Medina said. “It’s a great life experience for them. It can encourage them to go into that type of career, as an accountant or working for the government.”
Ornelas grouped students by their individual strengths, with each group being responsible for a different task to make sure the process goes smoothly.
“We have a group of students that greets people and escorts them to the classroom, and another group helps with intake forms,” Ornelas said. “We also have interpreters and of course our group of tax preparers. Once forms are completed, I review before sending them to the IRS.”
Senior Veronica Rodriguez has enjoyed being part of the program and helping her community.
“We’ve seen that people are really thankful for this program. We’ve had a really great response from the community,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez hopes to continue cultivating the knowledge and skills she has acquired through the academy when she attends the McCombs School of Business in the fall.
“We have learned a lot about filing taxes and how to run a business,” Rodriguez said.
Student Jonathan Gonzalez feels proud of his certification, which was helpful when it came time do his own taxes as well.
“I learned to do my own taxes. It felt good to do them myself without anyone’s help,” Gonzalez said. “I also liked the opportunity to learn more about business.”
Gonzalez says some people are hesitant about having a student prepare their taxes.
“At first they don’t trust students to do their taxes, but after they see everything came out right at the end they are satisfied,” Rodriguez said. “This program is good for people who can’t afford to go somewhere else and do their taxes. If we can do it for free, it’s a big benefit for them.”
Rodriguez wants to test for the advanced certification.
“I want to do it as soon as possible so I can start helping people,” Rodriguez said.
The VITA program is free for qualifying families earning up to $54,000 annually. Students are available to help Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. To make an appointment, call 915-236-7078.