Twelve-year-old Taylor Rueker scanned the numbers on the screen of her white iBook on a recent afternoon at Elkridge Landing Middle School and hoped for some good news.
She had dumped her stock in PetSmart about a month ago "because it was going down, and we noticed," she said. She bought Coca-Cola instead and watched its stock price rise from $41.76 in January to $44.25 in May.
Now the seventh-grader from Hanover needed to chart that change on a graph.
"What are you gonna put here on your Y-axis?" asked teacher Pat LoPiano as she drew a sample graph on an overhead projector.
LoPiano's class was part of a fledgling program, Stocks in the Future, that just wrapped up its second year at Elkridge Landing and Murray Hill Middle School. The program also operated at five schools in Baltimore and one in Baltimore County for three years. Run by a nonprofit group and directed through Johns Hopkins University, it is designed to help middle school students with troubled academic records get on the right track.
At Elkridge Landing, about two dozen students entered the program as sixth-graders and received a broad overview of banking, investing and the New York Stock Exchange. They also began to earn money for doing well in school: Each week of perfect attendance earned them $1. An A in reading or math equals $3. A grade of B is $2.
Students could earn up to $80 to buy stocks each year, or $240 by the time they reach eighth grade. And if they invest wisely, they have the potential to make even more.
Roddy Fair, 14, chose to buy stock in Time Warner and Disney from the list of seven companies that the program deals with. On a recent afternoon at Elkridge Landing, he read the latest news about his companies on his laptop. Both had big movies out, with Time Warner's "House of Wax" in second place at the box office and Disney's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in third. Still, their profits were down 24 percent from last year's.
After reading the news briefs, Roddy had to answer a series of questions posed on the computer.
Among them was the question: Why do you think movies haven't been as popular this year?
"I think that movies haven't been that popular this year because maybe they haven't had any good movies out," Roddy wrote. He said he saw "House of Wax" and thought Paris Hilton did just average.
The program's primary goal is to engage students in learning by teaching them real-life skills. Learning how to manage money has become important as credit card companies have marketed to increasingly younger demographics.
"They're not going to be fleeced once they get out there like a lot of students just leaving school," Craig Terbeek program director for Stocks in the Future.
But the program also hopes to have other positive effects. A study released this year by Johns Hopkins showed that middle school students with high absenteeism in sixth grade are more likely to drop out of high school. Students in the Stocks in the Future program missed an average of 3.2 fewer days per school year -- a total of nearly two weeks of middle school -- than students not in the program, the report said. That increases the likelihood of their receiving a diploma.
Terbeek said one of the most gratifying parts of his job is watching the light bulbs go on for students.
"If there's excitement, that gets me excited to do my job especially," he said.