Skip to main content

South Jordan Journal

Elk Meadows Elementary students show stock savviness, win Utah Treasurer’s Investment Challenge

Jun 05, 2024 03:14PM ● By Julie Slama

At the Utah Treasurer’s Investment Challenge awards ceremony, Elk Meadows fifth-graders Gavin Cabrales and Nathaniel Harwood and their teacher, Brittany Smith, got the opportunity to meet Utah State Treasurer Marlo Oaks. (Photo courtesy Elk Meadows Elementary)

Imagine having $100,000 to invest in common stocks and diversified investment funds. Not sure where to invest?

Ask two Elk Meadows Elementary students.

Fifth-graders Gavin Cabrales and Nathaniel Harwood recently took first place in The Utah Treasurer’s Investment Challenge, a 10-week simulation of Wall Street investing that provides a framework for students to learn about the economy and financial markets.

The two boys were among the 4,500 elementary, middle and high school students from across the state who participated. The duo was ranked first amongst elementary students with the ending value of their investment portfolios.

“Our teacher just said one day that we’re doing a stock challenge and we thought it was just for fun,” Gavin said. “We were buying stocks and doing well. Then we found out there would be a winner and that we won it for the state.”

Their teacher, Brittany Smith, joined other Elk Meadows teachers in presenting this opportunity to the 60 fifth-grade students. 

“I had a parent come in, who’s a financial advisor, so he talked to the kids about basic things with the stock market,” she said. “My students broke into small groups and logged onto their Chromebooks to the stocks simulation program where they could see real stocks that they wanted to buy.”

Each group in the class started out with $100,000 to buy stocks. Costco, Ultra and Nike were some of the most popular ones, Smith said.

In Smith’s 27 years of teaching, this was her first time having a class participate in the challenge.

“One afternoon we tried to get on and they said, ‘It’s not working.’ It was because the real stock exchange had closed for the day,” she said. “It was fun, but we only spent a few minutes now and then on it because we were busy working on fractions. Still, the kids still got a sense of how stocks work.”

At the end, the two boys earned $103,000. Smith received a letter congratulating them for placing in the top of the state.

Nathaniel said they were surprised.

“We’re like, ‘Is this real? Did we really win?’” he said.

The two, along with their parents and teacher, were invited to a luncheon where they each were awarded a plaque, $50 in a 529 educational plan and a swag bag.

The boys also shared their strategy with attendees.

Gavin said they invested in familiar companies.

“We picked Apple, Costco and Spotify; those were our best three,” he said. “Apple’s numbers were good when we bought it, and then over time it started to do even better. Costco and Spotify weren’t doing as well when we bought them, but they went up as we thought they would. Sometimes, our stocks went down, but they always came back up. We used the buy and hold strategy for those. We bought other stocks like Adobe, which did great, but Nintendo and Marvel didn’t do as well in the simulation. Snapchat was probably our worst one. It still made more money than we paid for it, but it didn’t do as well as other ones.”

When they bought stocks, Gavin accidently purchased 100 shares of Tesla, instead of just a handful. The pair sold all but five and invested more in Adobe.

“Tesla wasn’t doing great; it was in the middle,” Nathaniel said. “We made some money from selling.”

Nathaniel said he gained a better understanding of stocks with the simulation.

“I understand you’re investing in something so you can earn more money, and it’s like you own part of that company,” he said. “But if the company does really bad, you could lose a lot of money as well.”

Gavin said it succinctly: “It’s a gamble.”

While neither boy wants to become a stockbroker – Gavin wants to be a lawyer “because my mom says I’m really good at negotiating” and Nathaniel wants to be a video game coder and inventor “because I have a lot of good ideas” — both are glad they had this opportunity.

“The best part of it was working with each other; it was fun,” Nathaniel said. “Our parents are proud of us, too. We earned some money for college.” λ