From Wall Street to Main Street: Washington Irving’s 5th Graders Participate in Annual Stock Market Challenge

Future Captains of Industry? Mini Masters of the Universe? Strategic Thinkers? Perhaps these are not ways in which you typically describe fourth and fifth graders, but it just might be the case for the students at Washington Irving.

For the past 8 years, Washington Irving has participated in the Stock Market Challenge, a national program where every year over 600,000 students participate in all 50 states. Since 1977 it has prepared nearly 20 million students for financially independent futures. And students at this Tarrytown school have consistently placed in the top 10th percentile of New York State participants.

The program starts in fourth grade where students learn the basics of charts, graphs, and how to organize information. In fifth grade they are given just over $100k to invest. Here they learn, on a micro level, about how the market functions; including how stocks are categorized and on which index they are traded. On the macro level, they learn about the importance of saving for retirement, long term planning, and working towards personal goals.

Elisabeth Hickey, Washington Irving teacher and steward of the program, recognizes the broader lesson at play: “This challenge is about building independence and self-reliance…There are so many life lessons about the need to examine a situation, gather information, look at options and make decisions.”

Her students, Aiden and Rylan, who placed in the top 3% of the more than 5,000 students in New York State this year, shared their strategies for success: “I took a lot of time to do research into companies,” said Aiden. “I looked at CNNMoney to see which industries and sectors were doing well and then I spent a lot of time researching the companies that had a good forecast.”

Rylan also used research and diligence to inform his investment decisions, “When I first started I was just experimenting with the stocks to get a feel for everything and I found that car industries were doing well, so I bought stocks in that industry,” he said. Rylan tracked his stocks every day, and when some were not doing well, he would sell them and invest in other stocks that were performing better.

Aiden put some of his investments into Pfizer and Twilio- an American communications company which provides programmable communication tools using its web service APIs. Rylan focused on the Ford Motor Company, which performed the best in his portfolio. Other stocks in which students invested included Apple, BP, Tesla, Salesforce, Moderna.

It’s not just about financial tools. The learning journey encourages an understanding of a personal philosophy on risk-taking and decision-making. It curates an awareness of the world around them by considering global, economic, and social conditions that might impact the performance of investments. It places value on individual ideology, as it relates to investing in companies that reflect personal values, while simultaneously weighing an understanding of the markets, world influences, and using predictive forecasting in what the world will look like, and how it will operate, in the future.

Briana, a fellow Washington Irving participant, felt more comfortable taking a bullish approach. She is interested in cryptocurrency, which is partially driven by her interest in the environment and getting to a point where we no longer have paper money.

The deeper value of the Stock Market Challenge is not lost on Elisabeth Hickey, “This happens to be about the stock market – and that’s a very tangible way for students to see cause and effect – but the process of critical thinking and making decisions is a life-long skill set. This is a higher level of thinking and one that is very sophisticated for this age group.

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