Members, Students Play the Market

Posted March 12, 2004 at 3:07pm

Fourteen Members of Congress have signed up as sponsors for a nationwide high school competition that teaches students about the stock market through hands-on experience.

The Capitol Hill Challenge, run by the Securities Industry Association, will put 14 teams of students from schools in Members’ home districts in competition with each other for a grand prize trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with their Member of Congress.

“More people are investing than ever before and the market has become an asset for millions of Americans,” Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), one of the program’s sponsors, said in a statement. “This challenge gives kids the opportunity to have some fun while learning how they can take more control over their own future.”

The program “helps instill an understanding of saving and investment and helps [students] get a basic understanding of the value of their money,” said Gloria Talamas, vice president of the foundation for investor education for the Securities Industry Association.

The Capitol Hill Challenge is a first-of-its-kind competition using the curriculum from the Stock Market Game, a stock market-simulation program teachers have used across the country since 1977.

In the game, students are placed in teams and given the task of theoretically investing $100,000 in the stock market over a 10-week period. At the end of the 10th week, the team with the highest equity portfolio wins.

Camp and fellow Reps. Richard Baker (R-La.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boehner (R-Ohio), Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.), Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Jim McCrery (R-La.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.) are all sponsors for the competition.

The Members will hopefully make visits to the classes participating in the project, Talamas said.

Jody Pyle, a teacher at Nixa High School in Nixa, Mo., uses the Stock Market Game as part of her the curriculum for her introductory business class. Students react positively to the program because it gives them an opportunity to do hands-on work with subject matter that is often dry, Pyle said.

“It’s just an opportunity for them to get involved in stocks and what they’re about without risking any money,” she said. “I have kids coming out wanting to be brokers, and I have kids coming out never wanting to put a penny in the stock market.”

When Pyle’s students were offered the opportunity to take part in the Capitol Hill Challenge, they jumped at the chance, she said.

At the start of each class, students “immediately come in and turn the computers on and check their stocks,” Pyle said. “They really do get excited about it.”

This sort of student response is typical of what Talamas said she hears from teachers across the country. “It’s exciting,” she said. “It really motivates them, and they are so energized they end up buying the stocks they know.”

Pyle, who has used the program for nine years, said the program truly gives students a head start to understanding how the financial world works.

“I have students come out and actually go invest in either mutual funds or students who work for a corporation like Wal-Mart and they have profit-sharing options,” she said. “It’s very real.”

Students who are seen as underachieving in school often excel in the program because it provides them with a new outlet to learn, Talamas said.

“The kids that didn’t apply themselves as well felt that they could really compete with the smart kids because you start out on a [level] playing field,” Talamas said.

The program sends teachers specific curriculum guides, lesson plans, an online simulation program and weekly newsletters for use in their lessons. Some use these options more than others.

Pyle said she gives the students investment tips, teaches them ways to use the Internet for resources and has an investment representative talk to them about stock options.

“What we do stress to them is that when you are trying to make money over a 10-week period you invest differently,” she said. “You don’t take as much risk as if you’re really investing.”

Despite its praise, the program does face challenges. To keep the program available to schools at little or no cost, organizers are constantly raising money, Talamas said.

Plus, some schools have had difficulty acquiring the computers needed to access online classroom lessons. When this occurs, the Securities Industry Association works with its local members to get computers for the classrooms, Talamas said.