Gilpin High School students place third in investment competition

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42 teams contend at the Metro Denver Junior Achievement Stock Market Challenge

by Patty Unruh

The Metro Denver Junior Achievement Stock Market Challenge (SMC), sponsored by the Bank of America, was held on November 8 and 9 at the Cable Center in Denver. A team from Gilpin County High School participated in the tough contest and were proud to bring home a third place trophy. 42 teams comprised of over 1,300 students competed from around the state.

The SMC is a fun, fast-paced live stock market simulation game, featuring teams of high school students who compete to see who can grow their initial investment into the largest net worth “mock” stock portfolio. The challenge offers a taste of what it’s like to build a portfolio, manage risk, and experience its performance in a compressed period of time.

Darren Newberg, Gilpin’s financial literacy instructor, prepared the students for the competition.

“Gilpin students have participated for six years, or 12 semester classes, and for the first time brought home a third place win for highest net worth in the SMC event,” he reported.

The Gilpin team members who won the third-place trophy were Lena Warren, Ashley Parkhurst, Ella Felty, and Lottie Eger. The entire group of students who attended were Joleen Slack, Michael Wenholz, Ella Felty, Ashley Parkhurst, Lottie Eger, Lena Warren, Jessica Wilhelm, Logan Prewitt, Alicia Johnson, Samantha Smith, and Sarah Trujillo.

The students worked in teams of up to ten (Gilpin teams usually have four to six kids), and they received a $1 million portfolio amount, Newberg explained. In the weeks before the challenge, students learned about investing. In their teams, they researched and invested in five different fictitious companies out of 26 companies traded. While buying the initial shares, students learned about diversification and became “experts” in the various types of companies. Newberg submitted the Gilpin team’s share picks to Junior Achievement (JA). When the students arrived, they were set up and ready to compete.

“I am always impressed by my students’ reactions when we walk in the door,” Newberg related. “It’s hard not to become excited and intimidated at the same time. The look of excitement on their faces is always impressive. The atmosphere is buzzing with excitement. There is always an emcee getting the crowds worked up while explaining the game.”

Each “day” was compressed into 90 seconds. Teams competed for a virtual two months, with a 15-minute break between each month. In each day, they got to buy, sell, trade, or hold their stocks in their portfolios.

When the opening bell rang, chaos ensued as students tried to get a grip on the fast-paced action on the floor, Newberg said.

“Teachers are not allowed to participate, which is lip-biting at times but also enjoyable as a spectator. Regardless of the placement, it is highly rewarding to see them figure out the process, recall what they had learned in class, and develop their own strategies as a team. In the four years (eight trips) that I have been doing this, I feel a sense of pride in each and every student as I watch them participate.”

During the game, there were two giant screens to monitor, a DJ cranking out pop tunes related to money, and the emcee giving “hot tips” to the teams. Teams had five opportunities to send a member to get printouts of the portfolios. It was also important for teams to have unique and positive ways to get the attention of the floor traders, who processed their orders for trading.

The goal was to be the team that increased its portfolio value the most and had the largest net worth by the end of the competition.

Several of the Gilpin students relayed their thoughts about the whole SMC experience.

“At first, I had no idea what I was doing, but being in the challenge really made a difference in my understanding.”

“It was fast paced and exciting!”

“It was stressful, but in a good way! It was much more exciting than I thought it would be.”

Other adults assisted in preparing the students for the competition. Sunny Vincent, current Secondary Instructional Coach and Gifted Education Coordinator, did the SMC with the students before Newberg took over the class and still volunteers her time to assist and to join on some field trips. Sarah Swanson volunteers with JA and comes into the classroom to offer lessons on investment and how it all fits into the competition.

Besides investment, Newberg’s financial literacy course addresses many topics.

“The course is designed to address practical personal finance needs that span from early teens to retirement,” he said. “We address spending, saving, managing accounts, credit, loans (school, mortgage, and car) creating financial and personal finance goals, investigating interests, further education, the job market, and planning ahead.”

Part of the course includes learning about stocks, bonds, mutual funds, futures, and options. Gilpin students begin their investment unit playing the Stock Market Experience, which is an online virtual stock market semester challenge offered through Economic Literacy Colorado.

Newberg explained, “I use this game as an experiential activity, designed to ‘play as we learn’ and build the knowledge and experience necessary for making smart financial decisions and looking toward the future.”

The online activity teaches students how to read a stock table and explore strategies for investment, risks, needs and wants, and simple savings, while the live SMC competition gives them a chance to put their new knowledge into practice.

JA offers the SMC and many other financial programs for youth.

“Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain, Inc. is part of the world’s largest organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy,” states the website. “Through a dedicated volunteer network, JA provides programs for students of all ages which focus on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness.”

The goal is for the young people to learn through hands-on experience. For example, students in an elementary school might learn about unit versus assembly line production by producing donuts, while high school students might participate in the SMC. Proceeds from the team-building events enable JA to offer the program at no cost to schools.

“Our economic future is uncertain,” JA states. The organization’s statistics show that Colorado educated only 50 percent of the workers needed to fill the high-skill, high-wage jobs it created between 2008 and 2018. More than two-thirds of parents feel less prepared to give financial guidance than they do talking about the “birds and bees.” 74 percent of young people identified risk and the possibility of failure as deterrents to launching their own business ventures. Many high school students go on to higher education and will incur college debt and a post-recession job market.

With these findings in mind, JA’s mission is to do everything possible to prepare young people to cope well in the 21st century workplace. JA works through a large force of well-trained volunteers to grow kids’ understanding of personal finance and develop a passion for free enterprise.

  The core values expressed by JA include belief in the potential of young people; commitment to the principles of capitalism; promotion of a culture of integrity; fostering a collaborative community of businesses, schools, volunteers and service organizations; following entrepreneurial values in business; and encouraging innovation, competition and risk.

  Students who participate in the JA program seem to possess the necessary knowledge and ability to match needs presented in the workplace. They also appear to be more optimistic about achieving future success.

“Optimism is the underpinning of advancement – not just material advancement – but also societal advancement and the enrichment of our neighborhoods and schools, our businesses and communities,” the group’s website states.

Newberg noted that many parents and community members have said they wished there was a course teaching financial literacy when they were in school.

“I can’t agree with them more,” Newberg declared. “I have been able to capitalize on my successes and failures by using them as examples of do’s and don’ts when it comes to personal financing. One of the reasons I stand behind the JA effort is because it is relevant, applicable, and proven to help young people make smart financial decisions and plan for their future.”

The economic future may be uncertain, but it is at least hopeful. Based on the success of Gilpin’s team at the recent Stock Market Challenge, there are at least a few young people who are well on their way to understanding economic principles and being ready to participate with confidence in today’s job market.

At any rate, the passion has been fueled, and perhaps these budding investors will even start their own businesses and offer the innovative goods and services that will be part of our daily lives in the years ahead.

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