Inly Middle School Plays to Win in the Stock Market Game

By Stephen Jenvey, Inly Parent and Trustee

As Kilgore states with gusto in the 1979 war classic, Apocalypse Now, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”  So it was for myself and the dedicated Team Middle School (Julie, Paran, and Tschol) as we opened the door of the science lab and stepped into the classroom full of anxious, sweaty-palmed, and eager-to-learn 7th–8th graders, and anticipated a couple of hours of intense, frenzied activity, with passions running high. Yes, it was time for the second annual Stock Market game.

This year’s 8th grade—with a sense of confidence from surviving the prior year’s experience—looked over the faces of the wide-eyed 7th grade, who remained unsure as to what this day would bring. I should restate the quote again but this time with a small change “I love the smell of competition in the morning” and you could definitely smell it. Have you ever been in a room with 30 adolescents, primed and ready for battle? At stake was not one, but two $25 Amazon gift cards for the winning stock pickers. So it begins.

The Stock Market Game is a multi-player simulation that teaches the benefits of long-term investing in a fun way. The game can be as complicated or simple as you like, making it accessible to middle schoolers and adults alike, and is played every year by rookies of the NFL, retirees at Ford Motor Company, and thousands of people across the US all looking to figure out how best to save the nest egg they have (or are about to start building).

The game works something like this. Each year (or round) the two-person teams figure out their investment strategies—should they be balanced, take risks, or go conservative. With their $500 starting capital, the teams buy and sell in a frenzied scene reminiscent of a Moroccan bazaar (did I mention the smell?). Portfolio earnings are then tallied based on cash earned in dividends and interest. Earnings in hand, each team has a choice—buy more securities or keep the cash. Pens go down and the round finishes with a roll of the dice, the fate of their portfolios in the hands of the market.

The outcome of the dice spurs complex calculations, and new portfolio values are derived. And the cycle repeats. As the years went by it became clear—an average a balanced investment portfolio appeared to deliver a steady return.

Over time more than one investor personality type emerges amongst the group—contrarians going against the market, conservatives keeping large chunks of wealth bond funds, and the select few risk takers exercising a “bet it all on red” strategy (complete with the beaded brow). We witnessed the whoops of joy when a stock went up or slumps of despair as the stocks fell.

As the day wore on and the competition got tighter, the temperature (and odors) in the room rose, and the final cycle arrived with the knowledge that at least five of the 17 teams were too close to call. For one last time the teams made adjustments to their portfolios, buying and selling with real purpose. They calculated the dividends and interest owed, deciding how best to reinvest their gains. Tension high, the teams were now hushed. Each of the leading teams scanned the room trying to assess how the competition was fairing. The markets opened and for the final session a hoarse session leader (me) rolled the dice and called out the prices one last time.

It was a nail-biting few minutes as the final portfolio values were calculated (and Tschol checked the math). Some valuable lessons were learned—the “bet on red” crowd lost their shirts, the conservative investors actually made some great gains, but the balanced investors who spread their wealth across all the asset classes (and lets face it had a little luck) had won the day.

My congratulations to Phoebe and Thomas on a job well done, my thanks to all of the Middle School for a great afternoon, to the patient parents for waiting in the pick-up line until the final results were announced and to Team Middle School for being most excellent bean counters. Lessons were learned, teachers took aside individuals to re-enforce some key points, the room was cleared up and slowly peace descended on the room.

Over the last three years, I have come to notice a particular aspect of the middle school personality that continuously amazes me. At times they show levels of maturity I find incredible, the comprehension of concepts most adults fail to grasp, or that miracle we see at graduation. And then, and without warning, you witness them revert to kids again, finding fun and mischief in everything, each an extreme, yet so enjoyable to be around. It has given me a glimpse of the adults they will become while reminding me of the young children they once were.

So “I love the smell of competition in the morning.” I love the sound of learning too, Inly style. It’s sometime loud, typically full of energy, sometimes quiet and thoughtful, always done with respect. I always leave wishing I could have gone to Inly Middle School, and fired up at observing our future in action and its love of learning, figuring out how to solve tomorrows problems today.

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