ABSECON — Holy Spirit High School seniors Kiersten Stone, Amelia Suarez and Tori Light made a virtual killing last fall on Wall Street.

Virtually, that is, because the $16,128 they earned in eight weeks was all part of a class assignment designed to get students thinking about the way the stock market works.

The idea, said teacher Marty Cortellessa, was to “really enlighten them how (their) money can grow.”

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By the end, the results were good enough to finish second out of 567 teams in southern New Jersey and 14th of 2,698 teams on the East Coast.

Cortellessa, a 1987 Holy Spirit graduate, has taught at the school for seven years after leaving a career in accounting for local health care organizations. He now teaches one marketing and two accounting classes.

He thought about using Wall Street for classes, he said, to teach about markets and profits. Even if a student doesn’t eventually wind up in a business career or profession, playing market games like this are good learning experiences.

His students participated in The Stock Market Game, an online market simulator, operated by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association Foundation in New York in the fall. The foundation says that more than 12 million students from grade school through high school have played the game since 1977, building their financial literacy and understanding of basic concepts.

Students are given $100,000 to invest for up to 10 weeks, and their results are then compared to the performance of Standard and Poor’s 500. Their return, in excess of 16 percent, was even more remarkable considering the S&P 500 declined by more than 3 percent during that same time.

Because these three did so well, the foundation has invited the team and Cortellessa to a June awards ceremony.

While some students find the program interesting, Cortellessa said these three really got involved in the project, regularly checking their returns on a smartphone app. “They were addicted to this,” he said.

Their secret, Stone and Suarez said, was to find companies that they expected would do well, and invest in them. One way was to track prior performance.

Since the program started in October, another strategy the three agreed on was that some companies would make a bunch of money selling stuff around Christmas. Buy some of those stocks, the reasoning went, and go along for the ride.

So they picked Green Mountain Coffee. More and more people were buying Keurig Coffee Makers — those machines that make cups of hot drinks out of Dixie cup-sized Keurig cups.

Each of the three has their favorite flavor (Stone, French vanilla; Suarez, hot chocolate; Light, caramel), and they know more and more people with those machines.

They also picked ShangPharma Corp., a Chinese pharmaceutical and biotech firm, because, Suarez said, “Everyone was going to get colds and sick, so they would need some pharmaceuticals.”

Of the three, only Light knew much about the stock market — and then, it was from hearing her dad talk about it. “I told my dad to invest in Apple” in the early days of the iPod. He didn’t.

The three hadn’t thought much about a career in business — until they saw the returns that could be made.

“Before, it was nothing I would have considered,” Suarez said.

“Now I know more,” Stone added, “I might.”

“And I guess I have good luck with the stock market,” Suarez said.

Contact Derek Harper:


Follow Derek Harper on Twitter @dnharper

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