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Students Take Stock of Trading

By Jorge Casuso

It was the final day of trading Friday, and the nervous brokers and their clients were poring over the morning's stock pages, tallying up the gains and losses.

Adam Leonard had taken no risks. Betting on established stocks such as IBM and General Electric, he had seen a more than 20 percent return in less than eight weeks.

"Mom told me (General Electric) was a pretty good stock because it rarely goes down too much," Leonard explained, writing a check out to his broker, who gets a six-percent commission.

Across the floor, his friend has taken a dive and is making more radical plans. "I'll go to Canada or Mexico," he said, after losing more than 10 percent on his investment.

While the money isn't real and the plans are make believe, the fourth grade students in Helen McCullough's class at Franklin Elementary School are coming about as close as a kid can get to playing the stock market and living the results.

For seven weeks they have followed the ups and downs of the New York Stock Exchange, keeping track of the companies they've invested their fake $1,000 in - many picked Disney and Blockbuster and Best Buy, and, of course, computer-related companies.

"Stock is like a roller coaster," Neil Carrey, who sits on the district's Financial Task Force, told the students in a class he has taught for seven years. "It can keep going up, but it can go down. A few years ago, a company was worth $62 in the morning, and at night it closed at $5."

The students, who have seen first hand the effects of rising and plummeting stock, take it all in. This is more than just theory. In the end, the fake investments can actually pay off - the winners, who will be announced next week, will take home $20 gift certificates.

The kids also will take home a wealth of math and business skills. They'll know how to tally gains and losses, write checks, calculate percentages and pay when they make a mistake.

The student contemplating fleeing the country took a further loss when he forgot his calculator and had to rent one from Carrey for $25.

"When you hire people to do stuff for you, you have to pay a fee," Carrey explained.

Other students earned as much as $250 for extra credit projects. Several scanned magazines and newspapers looking for publicly traded companies. They cut out the ads and placed the stock prices underneath - placing a value on names they see and hear daily.

"Disney Goes Way Way Up!" wrote Nora Gilbert Hamerling in a headline at the top of her extra credit report. "Critics Say Nokia is a Good Buy."

Nora had bet on Quicksilver stock, a clothing brand she had heard was popular. She also bought up Disney stock ("My brother owns a lot of Disney, and he's doing real well") and CBS (Her friend across the floor was selling it).

Arash Ghadooshahy invested in stocks he saw were going up - Best Buy and Chevron. But then they strated to drop, and Arash scrambled to "sell as fast as I could," but not before he lost $112.45 after broker's fees.

"I'd have to sell my bike, my Nintendo games, my very important stuff, my jewelry," Arash said when asked how he would pay off his debt.

Hayley Marx netted $150 investing in Best Buy, Disney and AOL, and that didn't include her extra credit project, which Carrey estimates will pocket her another $250. Her tips for success:

"You're just lucky, I think," Hayley said.

"For a fourth grade class, this is a pretty sophisticated class," Carrey said after the trading had ended and all the brokers' checked written out.

When all the stocks had been tallied, the class had lost $111.12. The competing fifth grade class had lost a little over $600.

The kids cheered.

"Learn to be humble winners," Carrey told them.

"Rub it in," said McCullough, who initiated the program to teach math application 15 years ago. "They rub it in."

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