For most 11-year-olds, McDonald's means a Big Mac, AT&T means a long-distance phone call and Woolworth's is just a five-and-dime store. But to a class of sixth graders in Southwest, these businesses translate into corporations with daily averages, gains and losses.
These 24 students at Amidon Elementary School are learning about the stock market, Dow Jones, bull market and other terms and transactions associated with the high-finance world of investments.
"I've made about $67,500 -- that's a $17,500 gain from my original $50,000 investment," said 11-year-old Darryl James as he figured out the "percent change" of his hypothetical earnings on his calculator. Darryl said his best investment was in Kellogg's, the cereal company.
It started when stock market enthusiast Robert Radford decided to volunteer time at his neighborhood school at Fourth and I streets SW to broaden some students' interest by introducing them to the stock market.
"Most of these kids know how to make money," said Radford, who said he has been investing in the stock market as a hobby for 27 years. "They pump gas or carry groceries . . . . They are enterprising, but they don't have a sense of what money can do for them."
"Most advantaged kids grow up with some knowledge of this sort of thing," he said. "They hear their parents at the breakfast table talking about their business deals, their interest and dividends," said Radford, who works for the federal government as director of the Migrant Head Start Program.
Radford, who teaches the students once a week, grabbed their attention early in the school year when he suggested that they enter a contest sponsored by a brokerage firm called Value Line. The prize is $10,000 for the contestant whose stock shows the most gain or the highest rate of return during the contest period.
Under the guidelines of the contest, each entrant is given a hypothetical $50,000 to invest in 10 stocks. But before choosing their stocks, the students at Amidon learned how to select stocks by determining which stocks were "safe" and which stocks were "timely."
"You can tell if a stock is safe by looking at the quality of the stock," said 11-year-old LaTanya Inman, who tracks the Dow Jones every week in her spare time. "And timeliness is: When the stock is low you should buy, and when it's high then you should sell," she said, boasting of her $12,000 gain from her investments.
Students track their stocks every week and record their earnings or losses in blue folders marked "My Stock Investments." Inside these folders are graphs and charts explaining "the economic clock" and how stocks "recover" and "expand." Each student was given a calculator by Radford to work out some of the difficult computations.
"Even if these children don't make a dime, they would have learned so many things that will affect them later," said the class teacher, Consuelo Norman.
Norman said the project has helped her students in mathematics. "Some of my students had difficulty working out percentages in problems," said Norman.
"Now, if I give them a problem situation involving percentages they will have it worked out before me sometimes," she said.
Crystal Midnight, 12, said she teaches her mother everything she learns. "I showed my mom how to work out a percent change, and sometimes we look through the paper together and choose different stocks," said Crystal, who said her stocks have earned an $18,500 gain from her initial investment. "My mom said she never knew what stocks were all about," she added.
But not all the students share Crystal's enthusiasm.
"I don't plan to invest my money in stocks," said Nathaniel Hill. "I don't want to loose my money that way; it's a gamble I don't want to take," he said, adding that he would rather spend his money on clothes and his family.
Robert Wills, 12, said he also had no plans of investing later in life. "I could invest all my money in stocks that I would expect to go real high, and then all of a sudden they could go bankrupt and so could I," he explained.
But Darryl James said he plans to invest as soon as he starts earning money. "This has been fun, and if you know what you're doing this can be an easy way to earn money, and I'm all for that."