VITA student volunteers help prevent panic a-tax


Ben Alexander/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 2.0

The VITA program is helping the underprivileged with their taxes. Their student volunteers will get certified in February.

Over 165 million tax returns were filed in 2020, and VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), a volunteer-run program that assists people with the preparation of their tax returns, is seeking to help those who need it the most.

Carlmont created their own VITA branch last year, led by John Rowe, the Intro to Business teacher. He discovered the program through two other schools that already had established programs, Long Beach Polytechnic High School and Santa Barbara High School. His Intro to Business class is in the process of getting their certifications for the program now. They will be ready to prepare tax returns starting on Feb. 14, and with a bigger group of students than last year, they are aiming high.

“I’m not sure how many returns we’ll be able to do, but I know that Long Beach did about 100 last year […] I think we probably won’t do 100, but it’d be nice if we could shoot for 100, or even 50,” Rowe said.

VITA has over 4,000 locations that help underprivileged people. Those who can get assistance from VITA include people who make less than $57,000 per year, have a disability, or have trouble speaking English. The program, funded by Congress, helped tax filers obtain $1.9 billion in total tax refunds in 2018, according to Prosperity Now.

VITA Program Infographic by Lindsay Augustine

Students such as Katherine Yu, a sophomore, and Arther Goncalves, a junior, in Rowe’s Intro to Business class have been working to become certified to prepare tax returns in time for the upcoming tax season. They’ve been preparing for their certification tests, and Rowe promises that their tax authorizations will be official by Feb. 14.

Goncalves sees the advantages in learning how to perform such a practical skill as preparing tax returns and the benefits preparing taxes brings to the community.

“[Learning to do taxes is] good to know for college […] Plus, you get to learn how to do taxes so you can be able to do yours in the future. We get to help people that don’t know how to do taxes,” Goncalves said.

Yu also sees the practical benefits of learning how to prepare tax returns and the effect on the community.

“I gain some concrete skills because this is applicable to real life and not theoretical. It’s really useful to our adult lives,” Yu said. “I think the program provides people with a lot of help because it’s giving people with lower incomes a good resource.”

Rowe saw starting the VITA program as a way to help his students prepare for life after school and as a way to give back to the community.

“I think it’s great to have students work on real-world projects […] and so to me [the VITA program] looks really attractive because there’s a lot of people out there who struggle with their taxes, and we are helping people out… And this is a great opportunity for students to learn how to do personal income taxes to help them learn to be a better business person,” Rowe said.

Despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic that could have ruined his real-world project philosophy, Rowe was able to adapt his program to an online structure for his students. His program now allows students and their taxpayers to meet virtually two nights a week. This helps give a more hands-on approach to taxes and helps the students understand the specifics of the situation they are dealing with. He’s also considering setting up a program specifically for working students who wish to learn how to prepare their tax returns.

I would say to any teacher out there who’s interested in starting their own VITA program, it’s a great way to get students involved in a real-world activity and do some good for your own community.”

— John Rowe

Rowe hopes his program at Carlmont may inspire other schools throughout the Bay Area to start their own VITA programs, citing the benefits of a program like the one he’s created.

“I would say to any teacher out there who’s interested in starting their own VITA program, and it’s a great way to get students involved in a real-world activity and do some good for your own community,” Rowe said.