Fifth-grader honored for investment essay

11-year-old at Cromwell Valley Elementary wins national contest

April 13, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore County student who created an award-winning investment strategy that started with a comparison of balanced portfolios and balanced meals was recognized for his efforts Wednesday.

Abhinav Khushalani, a fifth-grade student at Cromwell Valley Elementary in Towson, wrote an essay outlining his plan to build a diversified portfolio with stocks, mutual funds and bonds in much the same way he would put together a meal with the five basic food groups. The piece, one of more than 9,000 entries from across the country, won first prize for the 11-year-old in a nationwide competition sponsored by the SIFMA Foundation for Investor Education.

"A good thing to do when you are choosing foods to eat is to check the nutrition label to see if a certain food is healthy," he wrote. "You should also research stocks, mutual funds and bonds."

Flo Falatko, his teacher and moderator of the school's stock market club, which helped Abhinav develop his investment skills, kept the award secret until an assembly Wednesday at the school.

"I was so surprised and overwhelmed that I didn't know what to think," said Abhinav, who received a laptop computer, a trophy and numerous official citations, along with thunderous applause from his schoolmates.

He spent several hours writing his essay and much more time researching background information, he said. "I only used one book," he said. "I did all the rest online."

The stock market club, which meets Tuesday mornings before classes begin, provided him with hands-on experiences in buying and selling, he said.

"The club looks at real-world applications in finance and gives the students opportunities to look at investment opportunities," Falatko said. "You would really be surprised at what these kids embrace."

The 38 club members, about half the fifth-graders, worked in teams of three playing the Stock Market Game, which was designed to initiate students into saving and investing. Each team begins with a $100,000 mock portfolio and writes a plan to make the money grow.

"It has sparked a natural curiosity in global economics, statistics, math and writing," Falatko said. "These kids are reading the paper and watching the news and are more aware of what's happening in the world. A few weeks ago, they wondered what would happen as the markets in Japan went down."

The students take into account market trends and holiday shopping, gas prices and political crises, and plot investment strategies accordingly.

"You have to buy low and sell high," said Joseph Ayd, club member. "I love coming to the club and seeing how much money our team has made."

About 5,000 student teams across the state and some 20,000 nationally play the Stock Market Game, said Allen Cox, managing director for the Maryland Coalition for Financial Literacy and state coordinator for the game.

"The idea is to get saving into their minds now," Cox said. "For these kids, Social Security and pension plans will be in question. They have to learn to save and invest when they are young."

Abhinav's father, Dr. Sunil Khushalani, a psychiatrist at Sheppard Pratt Hospital, said, "I wish we had had something like this when we were young."

Abhinav's parents, who were in on the surprise, and younger brother Varun, a second-grader, cheered as he accepted numerous accolades during the assembly.

"He has learned a lot and can teach us something," said his mother, Vaishal Khushalani, a pharmacist at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Their son, whose ambitions lie in computer engineering, would tell them to first work toward a healthy balance. Only then can you "follow your instincts and take your risks," he said.

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