Middletown student, 9, places ninth in nation for essay on wise investing

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MIDDLETOWN — A 9-year-old Macdonough Elementary School student is $200 richer for knowing the value of a dollar.

Fourth-grader Clara Carlson placed ninth in the national SIFMA Foundation fall 2020 InvestWrite competition with her essay on saving, investing and long-term planning, and first in the Connecticut competition.

Clara was surprised with a visit to her home Wednesday morning during the school’s monthly SURFS UP assembly on Zoom — Macdonough students are encouraged to practice self-responsibility, understanding, respect, fairness and safety.

When her teacher showed up in her driveway with balloons and the trophy, he saw Clara’s twin sister peeking out the window, he said.

She had figured out that Clara was a winner, but her mother asked that she keep quiet. “I worried she would spoil it,” STEM teacher John Ferrero said.

But there was no need to worry.

“You could see from her face she was shocked. She was speechless,” he said.

She was given two $100 American Express gift checks for her state and national wins. Clara was “described as fun-loving, social, kind, witty and adventurous and an active member of Girl Scouts,” said Elizabeth Reidel, national director of the Stock Market Game Program.

InvestWrite awarded Ferrero a $50 AmEx gift check for his efforts.

Clara wrote an essay on how challenges can create opportunities in the global economy and in life, according to InvestWrite.

“This pandemic has shut down many companies and tons of people have lost their jobs. Some people even lost their homes. Many people have even died,” she wrote in her winning piece. “Despite all of this, there are still people who still do not wear a mask. This experience has helped me to use technology better and learn from home.”

Clara is a “very enthusiastic and creative student who is good at thinking ahead,” said Ferrero, who presented Clara’s award live on a Zoom session. He called her win an “amazing achievement.”

The contest was the culminating activity for The Stock Market Game, which enforces STEM learning, in which students invest and manage a hypothetical $100,000 online portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and cash, according to InvestWrite.

Clara recommended people can safely invest in mutual funds and bonds, but said stocks carry much more risk.

The project is expected to be student-driven, Macdonough Principal Damian Reardon said

Ferrero provided students with a prompt to get them started, and the youths took it from there, he said. “Her essay really stood out. She writes with a strong voice and her writing is very natural.”

Clara took what her class learned as part of the stock game, which included the use of “virtual cash,” said Ferrero, who was amazed at the back and forth among students working on a shared Google doc.

“One part of teaching with a project-based learning is a lot try to make what they learn relatable to them and the world around them,” Ferrero said.

“We expect our students to be competent writers,” Reardon said. “Mr. Ferrero’s STEM program pushes them to communicate and to justify their thinking all the time. Writing is not something you do every now and then. When you have students who write all the time, it does help them find a voice, find a way to get their ideas across in a very succinct way.”

This is the fifth year in a row Macdonough has won the Connecticut division, and Clara so far is the only fourth-grader to win, Reardon said. “I think we can book you for next year,” Reardon joked with Reidel. “We might as well plan on next year being the sixth.”

Clara, who is new this year to Macdonough, has “a go-getter attitude” and volunteers during SURFS UP assemblies, Reardon said.

“Anything we can do at Macdonough to give students opportunities to be leaders is what we try to do,” the principal said.

For information, visit investwrite.org.