Graduating Randallstown High School senior Brian McNair was wary of the Facebook IPO hype. Though he saw his fellow students buying into it, he had a gut feeling the risk was too high.
McNair, 17, steered clear of the social media giant's stock and avoided one of the biggest letdowns in stock market history. Some of his classmates weren't so lucky. Fortunately for them, their tradings were virtual, part of a classroom simulation intended to teach them about the stock market.
Randallstown officially unveiled Friday its Academy of Finance Stock Exchange Classroom, a computer lab with 32 computers, two flat-screen televisions, a data board and a live NASDAQ stock ticker.
The school has offered the Academy of Finance program for about seven years, and about 120 students are currently enrolled. Randallstown's program is one of three in the state, according to Patricia France, the program's coordinator, and the classroom is the first of its kind in the state and only the fourth high school stock exchange classroom in the nation.
Though almost every corporation name scrolling across the newly installed ticker glared bright and red, indicating falling stocks and an economy still struggling to recover from the recession, county and state school officials were all smiles.
Incoming principal John Ward, who will take over this year for retiring principal Cheryl Pasteur, said the program is a testament to the school's commitment to the long-term success of its students. Ward, who served as principal at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex for the past seven years, said Randallstown's offerings, like the Academy of Finance, drew him to the school.
"It's one of the many exciting things here at Randallstown," Ward said. "I'm very happy to get to be a part of it. It speaks to the dynamism and the commitment that people here have to the children at this school."
On a practical level, students learn firsthand how the market works in the simulation, but the program's curriculum also involves 90 minutes per week in class studying accounting, economics and public issues, among other subjects.
To further build the program, Baltimore County Academy of Finance Director Erik Grooms is asking for permission from the school system to market naming rights for the classroom. He said Towson University has received a $250,000 investment from T. Rowe Price for a similar, but much larger, stock exchange classroom. Some companies have already displayed interest in the Randallstown classroom, Grooms said, and if the action can be approved, it would create revenue that could be used for scholarships.
Mina Jenkins, Randallstown's PTSA president, said the program will benefit students by encouraging well-informed and responsible money tactics as students graduate.
"It's key to have that knowledge as they go on to college," Jenkins said. "Especially with the issues with credit card debt. And it's not only for kids in [Academy of Finance] — we hope they share the things they're learning with the rest of the kids here and beyond."
Departing school Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said the new classroom should help address concerns that schools don't teach financial literacy.
"This is the cutting edge," Hairston said. "We're providing what's necessary for a quality education for the future. … And it's timely, when we're all talking about the global economy, the financial economy."
McNair, who serves as president of Randallstown's chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, will attend Stevenson University to study business administration and computer science. He said the Academy of Finance program will help him toward his goal of becoming an entrepreneur, especially because the program made the reasons for the recent recession more concrete for him.
"It showed me a lot about how the world operates. People are spending money irresponsibly. Once we figure out how to pay back the debt, I predict all of this will be better," he said, looking up at the red glow of the ticker.
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