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Boro students show skill as traders in stock game

A team of five fifth-graders from PS 196 in Forest Hills picked the right stocks to invest in during a 10-week period when they played the New York metro area Stock Market Game, placing them fifth out of 72 teams from elementary, middle and high schools.

The children were given $100,000 of imaginary money and allowed to invest in as many stocks as they wanted to during the duration of the game, which started in March. At the end of the 10 weeks, they had made $6,869.70 on their portfolio, which placed them fifth out of all the teams competing in the game.

"I'm really proud of them," said Pearl Halegua, the kids' math teacher who tailored much of her classroom curriculum from the beginning of the school year through February toward preparing students to play the game. "They were really into it and very strong in following through. As a group, they worked well together."

The top four teams in the game that ranked ahead of the PS 196 group were all high schools, with Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx coming in first. Among elementary schools, PS 196 had the No. 1 team.

To prepare students for the game, Halegua spent months teaching about percents, decimals, stocks, the history of the stock market, the different between NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange, business ethics and different types of companies.

Dressed in business suits, members of the winning team talked about their experience with the stock market before a enjoying a sandwich and cookie lunch and an awards ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange board of directors' luncheon room.

"We had to go online and answer questions like what's Dow Jones, how do you sell short, what's S&P 500, what's cyclical and non-cyclical," said Bryan Levin, 10.

Bryan and his teammates Jalen Vasquez, 11, Harry He, 11, Alexander King, 11, and Nicholas Villeta, 11, met regularly during the 10-week game period to vote upon which stocks to invest in and which to sell. Stocks they picked included Proctor & Gamble, UPS, McGraw-Hill, Citigroup, Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, Avon and DeVry.

Before picking stocks, team members talked about what types of stocks are on each exchange and went online to research companies.

"We looked at what would be affected by the war, like GE which makes a lot of electrical things," said Alexander.

While some stocks were easy to agree upon, others made it onto the portfolio by three-to-two votes.

"We had to give pros and cons," said Nicholas. "We had five meetings and bought a total of 11 stocks."

As a class assignment, teams had to learn the vocabulary used by stock brokers and act as stock exchange floor workers during short skits.

Once they had established their portfolios, team members tracked the progress of their stocks every day online or in newspapers.

"After math, we had 10 minutes before lunch to use the computers to find out how our stocks were doing," said Bryan. "We learned don't put all your money in one stock."

Despite being a member of the winning team, he said he would not want to become a stock broker or invest his own money in stocks.

"It's too hard," he said. "You might lose your money and go broke."

Alexander said he might invest in some stock, like Amazon, which earned $1,800 during the 10-week game period, the most out of all the stocks in the portfolio.

"One thing we learned is no matter how much a stock goes up, it can always drop down," said Nicholas.

Robert Strong, the executive director of the Stock Market Game, which began in 1977, said there was nothing wrong with students deciding that they would not want to invest in stocks because it was too risky.

"The one thing the game allows students to do is to use someone else's money," said Strong. "It's still real time, real stocks, real interest, and they're managing that portfolio. The value is that they begin to learn how to save long term and to invest long term."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger.aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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