JEFFERSON — Jefferson Middle School has traditionally done very well in the state stock market challenge, often fielding a team in the top 25 or even the top 10 in the state.
But never before has the school fielded two teams in the top three statewide.
In addition, this is the first time a Jefferson Middle School team has earned the championship since 2016’s “Quadruple Js,” who topped both the middle and high school divisions of the stock market challenge.
This year, a trio of mixed-grade students from the Jefferson Middle School Investors’ Club took the top place in the state among middle school teams. They were sixth-grader Chase Birkrem, seventh-grader Jason Vieira, and eighth-grader Isaac Birkrem.
Meanwhile, a team consisting of one in-person student and two virtual students came in third in the state. This team consisted of seventh-graders Noah Hudson (in person,) Bennett Lehman (virtual,) and sixth-grader Hailey Gyles (virtual.)
The members of this year’s championship team were new to Investor’s Club.
Chase and Isaac Birkrem, who are brothers, thought it would be a good learning opportunity.
“When I heard about the stock club, I thought that was awesome,” Isaac said. “It was really cool to think that people my age could make a ton of money by watching their computers and investing wisely.”
The short spring season started in March and wrapped up at the end of April.
The Wisconsin Council on Economic Education sponsors the challenge, in which every team started out with an imaginary $100,000 to invest.
They can also borrow up to an additional $100,000, but borrowing requires them to pay significant interest on the loan.
Preparing the students for competition, advisor Erich Utrie, social studies/economics teacher, met with the Investor’s Club weekly, teaching basic investing and trading strategies.
During the weekly meetings, the advisor also met with each team to discuss their investment strategies. During the remainder of each meeting, teams managed their portfolios.
The whole experience teaches young “investors” about how the stock market works, boosts their general money management and math skills and gives then a sense of when to buy, sell or hold onto their investments, Utrie said.
JMS’s top team saw success from the beginning, with a top 10 start in the state challenge. Then they dropped to 23rd place, so they decided to change strategies and invest more aggressively.
“Go big or go home,” Chase said, citing an investment strategy that works well with imaginary but might not be the strategy investors would want to adopt with their own funds.
“So we went big, and the next day we checked, the stocks were way up,” the sixth-grader said.
“At the start, I was doing a couple hundred per stock, and by the end I was going out of pocket to invest the maximum,” Isaac said. “We finished up some $9,000.”
The winning team said they looked for lesser-known stocks that could turn out to be “diamonds in the rough.” One of their winning moves was investing in solar panel stock.
“Stocks aren’t easy — you have to commit to the process,” Vieira said.
Vieira said the team worked together pretty well, identifying promising stocks, deliberating on their moves and coming to a consensus.
“It was a fun experience,” Chase said. “Because we did so well, our stepdad is actually going to put aside some money for us and give us ownership so we can invest it ourselves.
Meanwhile, the third place team saw success despite challenges no previous JMS team has had to overcome. First off, only one of the students was present at the school, while the other two were enrolled virtually this spring.
Secondly, one of the team members, Lehman, is blind, so he could not access all of the information that the other team members were able to see.
While Lehman could access the stock ticker through his iPad’s screen reader, the charts and graphs didn’t come through for him, so he had to work really closely with the other team members to get the full picture.
“I think our group really communicated well,” Lehman said.
Lehman did take charge of entering the stock trades for the group, and he said he was able to do some additional research on what was going on in the market.
He said he thinks his suggestion to invest in Apple after that company’s keynote presentation was one of the moves that paid off at the end.
Lehman and Gyles both decided to join Investors’ Club this spring because it was one of the few school activities they could fully participate in as virtual students.
“I didn’t know how it would go, being in a group with two older male students, but they were very helpful and kind and we worked well together,” the sixth-grader said. “Even though we did not know each other, the boys never treated me any differently,” she said.
With both at-home and virtual members, the team had to find a way to easily communicate with each other both during classroom Zoom meetings and outside of class via a Discord server.
Gyles said that their team started out with a conservative strategy as they learned the ropes. They learned to short-sell stocks and made a few good trades, but by the end of the challenge, they knew they had to take bigger risks if they were to stand out from the crowd.
“I learned to watch the stocks daily, and my partners and I did research each week, checking how companies were doing before investing,” Gyles said.
Lehman said he learned a lot about how the stock market works, saying he’s a lot more confident in his understanding of investment than before.
Hudson was the only member of the team who had done this before, having taken part in Investor’s Club as a sixth-grader.
Hudson said he was proud of how their team was able to go from 79th in the state at one point all the way up to third, thanks to research and good predictions.
“We looked at all of the stocks that were trending, short-sold some, and bought a lot of stock cheap that went the direction we expected,” he said. “We sold pretty much everything the second-to-last day and really jumped up.”