Douglass High School team wins national stock market challenge

Three days before the end of the competition, Brandon Dykes summoned members of his team to talk strategy.

For the first time since the Douglass High School team entered the Capitol Hill Challenge, things were starting to look up. In just a matter of days, they had risen from the bottom of the pack to third place.

They could actually win.

It was the first time in 17 years an Atlanta Public School team had ever been invited by the Georgia Council on Economic Education to participate in the national competition, said Jill Beracki, the team coach and U.S. History teacher.

The stock market game, according to Dr. David Martin, executive director of the Georgia Council on Economic Education, is one of several tools the nonprofit uses to help teachers enhance economics and other instruction in the classroom.

High school teams that participate in the Georgia stock market game, played each fall and spring by some 20,000 students across the state, are eligible to compete in the 14-week Capitol Hill Challenge in which each team represents a state congressman or senator.

Martin said the game, first introduced in the United States in 1977 and in Georgia in 1980, is a simulation that allows students to purchase hypothetical securities from actual stocks, bonds and funds. Run by the Foundation for Investor Education, it is used by some 800 teachers statewide in more than 700 schools.

Students are taught how to play the game, but the strategy is up to them.

Martin said playing the game helps students’ research and analytical skills and increases test scores.

Even in the midst of tough economic times, Martin said that the demand for the council’s services – workshop, materials and special programs such as the stock market games -- has risen dramatically.

For instance, he said, the council conducted 122 workshops in 2008 for 2,947 teachers. In 2009, at the heart of the recession, the organization led 176 workshops. Of those, 19 were stock market workshops for 3,586 teachers.

In addition to economics, the game is also used to teach other subjects, including U.S. History, business education, math and a variety of gifted classes.

Beracki, a former economics teacher, was teaching U.S. History when she formed her latest team.

“We didn’t know how we’d do, but we said we’d try,” she said.

Unlike the top team members, whose parents were heads of major corporations and who were adept at investing in the stock market, this was their first attempt. Only Brandon, the eternal optimist in the group, believed they even had a chance of winning.

“We had a good teacher,” he said. “She knows stocks. She pays attention to the news so I knew she could help us out a lot.”

It was true Beracki was familiar with the stock market. What she knew, she learned from her late father. Incorporating the stock market game into economics was a natural, she said, but the same proved true in her U.S. History classes. For one thing, she said, the first thing you learn is that the Jamestown settlement was founded by a joint stock company.

“Without investors, that colony never would’ve been settled,” she said. “Even when you get to the stock market crash and the Great Depression, you can’t get away from economics.”

From her class, Beracki formed two teams. One didn’t work out, she said. The other – a team of four boys and one girl – persevered. Sometime in April, Beracki said the team started to study about the world economy and how it could impact what was happening in America. It was then that they devised a strategy: invest in the Bank of Ireland.

"It was the cheapest one, $9 a share," Brandon, 16, said. "It was stable."

Within weeks, the team shot up to 25th place. They did a short sale of the stock, he said, “and that took us up to 10.”

Then, suddenly the market went crazy. Stocks rose and then plummeted. Douglass, though, survived the 1,000-point drop and on May 5, three days before the end of the competition, rose to third place.

On May 6, they advanced to first place with $140,000 in their portfolio. The team gathered to decide their next move.

“The Bank of Ireland was bringing in a good bit of money,” Brandon said. “We decided to just wait.”

It was Friday, May 7. They wouldn’t know the results until Monday.

“I don’t think I slept the entire weekend,” said 17-year-old Tydious Mitchell.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Beracki checked her e-mail.

“We just heard from New York,” an e-mail from the council said. "You won."

“I had been tracking it and they came out of nowhere,” Martin said.

When it finally sunk in, the team was on a plane to Washington, D.C., to pick up their award. For two days, they visited the Capitol, several memorials and peeked at the White House. The highlight, though, was meeting one of the champions of the civil rights movement, U.S. Congressman John Lewis.

“That's when we knew for sure," Brandon said, "we were champions, too."