COLUMBUS (WCMH) – One central Ohio educator has found a unique way to help prepare middle-school students for their financial future, using a simulated stock market to teach them the ins-and-outs of budgeting and investing.

“He was giving out stock tips, and he recommended I buy it,” explains Pheobe Bong, a 6th-grade student at the Wellington School, who says a friend’s advice helped her get in on GameStop from the start. “I just decided to trust him on it and bought a little bit of it.”

Stocks like GameStop and Blackberry were the focus of the financial world just weeks ago, and while it’s not day-trading they’re hoping to take advantage of, the Wall Street fiasco certainly provided a unique learning experience for Bong and her classmates.

While Bong relied on the advice of others, her classmate Parker Brown took a different approach to start.

“At first I just bought the companies I knew about like Apple and Microsoft,” says Brown, who is learning how to put his money to work. “I wanted to try to have a pretty nice portfolio of stocks that are doing decently good.”

The unique learning method is all part of hands-on financial literacy education.

“Our philosophy is to have students engage in education in ways they wouldn’t normally get,” describes Scott Langford, a 6th-grade math teacher at the Wellington School.

Langford developed the curriculum through a Student Engagement Grant. His goal: provide students with financial education at a young age.

“I recognized students weren’t getting financial literacy education at this age, some of the research says the earlier the better,” says Langford. “Making it live and happening for them in real-time, having skin in the game was really important.”

The students have a $3,600 monthly budget, paid bi-weekly.

Their expenses are modeled after that of a young adult, paying things like rent, student loans and car loans. They also have to navigate unexpected expenses like a car repair or a trip to the vet.

“You develop spending habits early, more so than saving habits and investing habits,” Langford says. “Often that spending can be dangerous with credit cards, and various forms of credit. So, this is about learning the value of money and what it equates to.”

After managing their expenses, the students are free to invest in things like stocks or cryptocurrency.
“I think the barrier is understanding it. Once you understand it you can get involved,” says Langford.

“They make their own decisions, and that’s the biggest thing. Because they’ve made the decisions, they own it.”

The students aren’t given an opportunity to sell their stocks, so seeing the investment through means they have to be creative when deciding where to invest.

“Sometimes I buy based on what’s happening. Like I bought an airline because people will start to travel once coronavirus gets a little better,” explains Bong.

For the students, it’s real-life knowledge gained in a real-life setting.

“I think it’s pretty important so you can learn how to make decisions and take risks,” Bong says.

The curriculum is also providing life-long knowledge for students who will someday invest real money with real consequences.

“It’s pretty amazing because I feel like now when I grow up, I’ll have knowledge in this and if I want to invest, I’ll know what to invest in,” adds Brown.

The financial literacy also links with standard math curriculum. Langford says he’s already seen in an improvement in their knowledge of positives and negatives, and percentages, and their ability to apply that knowledge daily.

“They are creating their own line graphs, bar charts, and pie charts to analyze their portfolio and further their decisions, so it’s been fun,” says Langford.