Personal Finance Classes Take Off at South Aiken High School
In just five years, personal finance classes at South Aiken High School have grown from one class of 17 students to a robust program with five classes serving over 150 students.
Part of the draw for students is a fun yet educational competition which allows students to learn about and experience the stock market with no real financial risk. Teams of students receive a set amount of funds which they may invest in any way they choose over a six-week period. The winning team at the end of the six weeks receives a prize and earns placement on teacher Lloyd Yaun’s “Market Watch” bulletin board, recording their exploits for years to come.
“They do not get to pick their teams, so it’s completely random,” Yaun explains. “You do not get to pick the people you work with and you do not get to pick your neighbors. That’s reality. You live and work with different kinds of people and you learn to work together. That’s something we want them to experience in this competition. We want it to work as if it is a real-world exercise, allowing students to experience volatility in the stock market without being open to risk.”
This year’s winning team came from teacher Anita Clark’s classroom, and included students Cameron Swearingen, Kolby Schultz and Tyrese Merrill. In six weeks, the team earned a 15-precent return on their $100,000 investment, or $15,299.99.
“They were the winners out of 47 teams and I think they learned a lot about investing,” stated Clark. “It was not only fun and engaging for them each day, but educational as well. Each team had $100,000 in a fictional bank and they were able to spend and invest it however they chose. I think it was extremely beneficial for them now and later down the road.”
The competition also included class discussions on the specific forces that both raise and lower stock prices, and students collected news articles related to the respective stocks they chose to purchase.
“We talked a lot during the course of the competition about what types of things were affecting stock prices,” Clark added. “Whether it was talk about a trade deal with China, or what was going on in the White House to whatever else was happening in the world, we discussed it all. They had an opportunity to buy and sell stocks each day and they did a lot of great research.”
Cameron Swearingen says he liked having the ability to buy and sell a wide range of stocks.
“I really enjoyed the experimentation it allowed, just to see what you could make buying and selling different stocks,” stated Swearingen. “That was a cool part of it.”
Kolby Schultz said while his team’s single-stock approach paid off at the end of the six-week competition, it required lots of research and time spent checking daily on the stock’s performance as each week’s decision to keep the previous stock or sell and buy anew was critical.
“We decided to go with one stock each week so that’s where we put all of our money,” commented Schultz. “We stuck with a different stock each week and that really worked for us. We researched a bunch of stocks. When we bought Tesla stock for a couple of weeks that pushed us into the top ten, and then we went back to it when they released information about the new cyber truck. You have to keep checking in on your investment. I usually checked it a couple of times a day and made adjustments from there.”
“Sometimes the stock we had selected the previous week would just go down and stop performing so we needed to go do additional research and find another one,” added Merrill. “We also collected news articles related to the stocks we chose.”
The students received gift card prizes, and Chick-Fil-A donated free sandwich cards to all students who participated in the competition.
ENCOURAGING SOUND FINANCIAL HEALTH AND SAVINGS
Were the scope and reach of the personal finance classes at South Aiken High School to end with the student competition the results would still be impressive, but there are more benefits.
While making learning about personal finances fun and engaging, teachers also encourage students to value their financial health just as much as their physical health. They do this by challenging students to save money and eventually invest responsibly.
South Aiken High student Jordan Ynga, now a junior, took the lessons he learned in Mr. Yaun’s personal finance class as a sophomore to heart, and to the bank – a real one this time.
“Instead of spending all of my money, I started looking at saving up to eventually invest in a mutual fund and I have already saved over $1,000 towards that goal,” stated Ynga. “If there was one thing we’ve been taught, it is to invest in mutual funds rather than stocks and that’s what I want to do. I just came to realize that you have to start somewhere with a savings plan, and if I don’t know it could be too late. I started putting money aside each time I was paid for doing landscape work or mowing lawns, and then one day I had over $400 and I opened a savings account. It felt really good. It was very fulfilling. Once I turn 18 I will take what I’ve saved up and invest.”
“It’s awesome what Jordan has done,” commented Yaun. “It tells me we’re doing the right thing and the course is working. Jordan did what he did on his own and I am very proud of him.”
Count South Aiken High School Principal Samuel Fuller among those who are thrilled with the results being seen from the personal finance classes being offered on campus.
“Money is something you will always deal with and for our students to be able to leave South Aiken with a solid understanding of how their own personal finances can be managed that’s amazing,” stated Fuller. “We talk all the time about student loan debt, credit card debt and just tough financial issues. The more financially literate they can be when they leave high school the better their future will be.”
Fuller says in many cases students are taking the knowledge gained in their personal finance classes back to their homes, where it is being incorporated and changing the financial health of entire families.
“The knowledge they are acquiring as sixteen- and seventeen-year-old students is amazing,” added Fuller. “These are things I had no idea about at that same age. Many of our students are also passing along that knowledge to their parents and having conversations at home that are helping break the cycle of poverty. That is just huge. Students are saving their money and better preparing the next generation.”
Ynga admits that saving isn’t always easy – especially at the beginning. However, his advice is to set a goal and stick with it.
“It’s really hard to save at first because there are so many things out there you may want, but once I had a few hundred dollars saved it was a lot easier,” he explained. “You need to have a goal – either weekly or monthly – and just stick with it. If you have any extra go ahead and save that as well.”
Personal finance classes are currently offered at South Aiken High School, Midland Valley High School, North Augusta High School, Aiken High School, Ridge Spring-Monetta High School, North Augusta Middle School, and Wagener-Salley High School.
Since personal finance classes first began in 2014, local financial advisor John Travis has been an integral part of the success of the personal finance classes, having donated over $20,000 to personal finance education in Aiken County Public Schools.
Additional financial literacy programs are also offered throughout Aiken County Public Schools, including a personal finance seminar for high school students through SRP Federal Credit Union and the Looney Tunes savings program offered through Security Federal Bank.
LINK TO DISTRICT PRESS RELEASE: 2020 PR SAHS PERSONAL FINANCE