The competition is escalating to a fever pitch.

There’s a lot riding on this. People are yelling, waving their arms and, at times, running.

It resembles the frenzied floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Except this is the Junior Achievement Stock Market Challenge.

“There’s a nervous energy that fills the room,” said Hilary Walker, a Trust Advisor for Regions Private Wealth Management in Lufkin, Texas. “The pressure is high to get in and buy early.”

At first, Walker wasn’t sure about the JA fundraiser, which also teaches teens financial literacy. “Other people kept saying how amazing it was,” she said. “I was a little skeptical until I saw it.”

Once she did, Walker was hooked. The same happened for one of Walker’s colleagues in Tyler, just 85 miles north. After observing the program in Lufkin, he knew Tyler students could benefit from it, too.

Students like Cole Cargile.

“I learned a lot during the Stock Market Challenge,” said the high school senior, who participated in Tyler’s first event. “I didn’t know much about the market before, so it was interesting to learn about buying and selling stocks.”

… Students can discover how any financial choice they make today will affect them tomorrow as well.
Chad Cargile, East Texas Market Executive and Commercial Banking Leader for Region

For Chad Cargile, Cole’s father, supporting Junior Achievement means connecting students with a world of ideas and possibilities. The East Texas Market Executive and Commercial Banking Leader for Regions is, himself, an active JA volunteer.

“JA does a great job of bringing financial and life skills to the classroom,” said Cargile. “The stock market is a mystery to many students, like it was to Cole. Through this program, we can introduce high schoolers to investing in a memorable way. But, more than that, we can stress the importance of making thoughtful, strategic financial decisions, and students can discover how any financial choice they make today will affect them tomorrow as well. It’s very eye-opening.”

Using a fast-paced approach, the JA Stock Market Challenge puts a modern spin on teaching teens about money management.

High schoolers are placed into teams of four, with each group given $1 million to invest in fictional stocks. Every 60 seconds represents one day of trading. Students receive a constant newsfeed of financial developments that may or may not affect the market.

The goals? Build, protect and preserve your finances.

“Money management begins at day one and lasts a lifetime,” said Staci Hodges, executive director of JA Angelina County. “I love watching the students during this activity because you can see the lightbulbs going off for them.”

With time ticking away during the Tyler challenge, Cole and his teammates enlisted the risky approach of short selling, a practice where investors borrow shares they think will decrease in value, immediately sell them at the current price and then buy them back at the anticipated lower cost, with a goal to net the difference.

“Shorting stocks was especially interesting,” said Cole. “It’s a little bit like gambling since you have no idea how things will turn out.”

For Cole and team, it was a bet that didn’t pay off. Another lesson learned.

“Our stock didn’t perform that well,” said Cole. “But we still had fun.”

More than that, he gained insights that can help him navigate future financial choices.

“He’s been researching stocks to learn more about companies,” his father said. “He has also listened to several podcasts about the market since the challenge.”

The experience has lit a spark and opened students’ eyes. That’s exactly what Junior Achievement wants.

“Our goal is for students to discover something new and valuable about investing,” said Hodges. “It’s about providing a hands-on experience that helps build their confidence.”

The inaugural Tyler event drew 200 students from four schools. It was so well received, there’s already a waiting list for the 2020 competition.

“Launching the JA Stock Market Challenge in Tyler this year was incredibly special for us with it being the 100th anniversary of Junior Achievement,” said John McDougald, JA Tyler’s Executive Director. “It’s been great to see such a positive response to the program.”

In Lufkin, the challenge lured students from six school districts across two counties.

“Through experiences like this one, we can have a hand in preparing our next generation for success,” said Hodges.

After the student experience ends, the adults take their turns navigating the bulls and bears.

McDougald notes the experience is often eye-opening for them, too.

“There was a first-time participant who couldn’t have been more excited at the end of the evening,” said McDougald. “He told me it was worth every penny to play and be part of this event given how much he had learned.”

Regions fields several associate teams in the Tyler and Lufkin competitions; they each raise money through the event, with proceeds benefiting JA programs.

Regions associates fielded two 2019 Stock Market Challenge teams in Tyler, Texas. The fundraiser benefits Junior Achievement.

“There’s so much community involvement,” said Hilary Walker, herself a 10-year JA volunteer. “You see businesses from all sectors participating and supporting Junior Achievement.”

Walker also notes the positive impact the program is making for Lufkin students.

“I’m grateful the bank allows us to be part of this event,” said Walker. “JA helps students discover how their community works. I can see the difference it makes. It matters.”

While the event is intended to be educational, it’s also incredibly competitive. That applies to students and adults. Walker’s team has proudly captured first- and second-place finishes in the Lufkin competition during the past two years. Some of her colleagues clinched second place. Regions teams had first- and second-place finishes in Tyler, too.

The competition’s already heating up for next year.

“I have a title to reclaim,” Walker declared.