When it comes to finance, Skyline students score big
Some schools boast a strong swim team. Others embrace a versatile theater program. Skyline High School is emerging as a place to learn money smarts.
This spring, Skyline of the Granite School District clinched all the top prizes in Utah in both the InvestWrite financial essay contest and The Stock Market Game, an investment simulation using real-time numbers from the S&P 500 index.
Using a strategy of investing in $5 stocks, volatile stocks and short selling (a way for investors to profit when a stock's value goes down), Skyline sophomore Cassidy Hoff who took first place in Utah turned her hypothetical $100,000 into $206,000 in just 10 weeks, a 109 percent return.
"It's really just a big gamble," Hoff said of The Stock Market Game. "It wasn't real money, so we got to use it however we liked. You can make a lot of profit, but you can also lose a lot."
Although the game rewards the one with the most money at the end, it's also a reality check, said Skyline teacher Syd Lott, who taught finance for the first time this year. He said the exercise brought home lessons about the benefits of diversifying a portfolio and focusing on long-term investing instead of day-trading.
"My last lecture on investing was titled, 'How does everything we learned in The Stock Market Game not apply to your real life?' " Lott said. "I don't think any kid comes out of the game thinking, 'I can beat the market.' "
The InvestWrite essay contest is a national writing competition sponsored by the SIFMA (Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association) Foundation for Investor Education in which students submit essays on a financial scenario. The essays are sent to a group of investment professionals who judge the work based on writing style, understanding of investment strategy and depth of thought.
Skyline sophomore Afras Sial placed first in Utah and seventh in the nation last fall with an essay comparing how Apple and Lockheed Martin would fare if a civil war broke out. Bingham High School's Anders Evensen placed 10th nationally this spring.
Lott said competitions such as The Stock Market Game and the InvestWrite essay contest take the state's financial literacy course an online class required for a high school diploma up a notch.
"We live in a world where you can't get by only knowing how to fill out a check and how to balance your checkbook. Everybody's going to need to understand investing, understand the macro ideas," he said. "We have to try and be that next level up."
Julie Felshaw, economics and financial education specialist at the Utah State Office of Education, says this kind of hands-on approach is crucial in teaching financial literacy.
"Teaching from a chapter out of a book will never work," Felshaw said. "You need something to make it real for them. Otherwise, finance can be a bit of a bore."
This year, 4,531 students from 89 Utah schools participated in The Stock Market Game; 237 Utah students entered the InvestWrite competition.
Twitter: @jnpearce Utah's InvestWrite Winners
Of the 237 Utah students in grades 9-12 who entered this year's InvestWrite financial essay contest, Granite School District's Skyline High School swept the top prizes.
1st place • Afras Sial, sophomore
2nd Place • Cassidy Hoff, sophomore
3rd Place • Emily Tribble, senior