Invest in Academic Life
Most middle schoolers can easily site the stats of their favorite professional athlete or the details of each performance on American Idol. But how many pre-teens can tell the latest trends in the stock market and analyze company performances?
Here in Maryland, the answer is 150 students in seven schools, thanks to Stocks in the Future, an incentive-based educational pilot program that is changing the way underperforming students feel about school. While teaching students about investing, percentage yields and price/earnings ratios, Stocks in the Future is giving challenged students a reason to be excited about school and improve attendance and grades. And the program is achieving desirable results. For the first two quarters of the 2002-2003 school year, students attended classes an average of 2.1 days more than the control groups.
"This attendance advantage is both statistically and educationally significant," said Douglas MacIver, a principal research scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Social Organization of Schools, a partner in the program. "Stocks in the Future students were 2.3 times more likely than control students to achieve perfect attendance."
The curriculum teaches factors that influence business decisions, help students analyze publicly traded companies and examine various financial instruments. As they learn, students earn SIF dollars through perfect attendance for the week ($1), improvement in grades ($2) each quarter, and maintaining A's and B+'s ($3). They can earn up to $80 in a school year. With those earnings, students purchase publicly traded stock that is redeemable when they graduate from high school.
Working through existing school programs, the schools identify students who are generally behind in major subject areas on standardized tests, whose attendance is problematic, or who demonstrate unsatisfactory behavior and attitude problems. They receive instruction once a week during the regular school day and their performance is compared with a control group of a similar academic profile in each school that is not offered the curriculum.
"This is not a project about money," said Pat Bernstein, chair of the Stocks in the Future Foundation, underwriters of the pilot. "It's about giving students an incentive to change behavior and learn something new. The program offers the neediest ones a chance to buy into the future in ways they probably would never achieve otherwise. They respond because they are learning something that has relevancy to their lives."
Stocks in the Future is currently offered in seven sixth-grade and two seventh-grade classes across the state. Participating schools are The Barclay School and Francis Scott Key Middle School in Baltimore, Deer Park Magnet Middle School in Baltimore County, MacArthur and Old Mill middle schools in Anne Arundel County, Neelsville Middle School in Montgomery County, and Southern Middle School in Garrett County.
With curriculum skills and text books that reinforce math and reading skills written by CSOS researchers, Stocks in the Future examines kid-friendly stocks and with their earnings, students can buy actual shares of Coca-Cola, Sony, Time-Warner/AOL, Toys R Us, and Disney.
Bernstein also initiated the former Cycle Across Maryland Teen Challenge, a summer program that linked marginalized students with adult cycling mentors for weekly training and encouragement that culminated in a week-long cycling trip. Completion of the program earned students new bicycles.
"The CAM Teen program gave students success outside the classroom and a boost to self-confidence that carried over in other parts of their lives," Bernstein says. "In developing the Stocks in the Future program, I wanted to apply the same guiding principles within the classroom. The experience taught me two basic concepts: students respond to incentives that have perceived value, and, most importantly, they need an excuse to change undesirable behavior. In both cases, the bicycle and the publicly traded stock act as metaphors for learning life skills."
For more information about Stocks in the Future, contact Amy Cowles at 410-516-7160, or visit www.stocksinthefuture.org/index.shtml.
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