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Students, from left, Lillie Sherrerd, Nakayla Knowlen and Phillip Hall work on a spreadsheet for their Rollin’ in the Dough project at Dennis School Thursday.

DECATUR — Dennis School students are keeping a close eye on the stock market, a roller coaster that has seen record heights and sudden drops in the past few weeks.

“The project design was to have students act as financial advisers,” said Keith Creighton, who teaches in the middle school.

He and fellow teacher Brittany Acree  guided the students in the project, which they dubbed "Rollin' in the Dough."

“They were to put together a portfolio of three or four stocks that they were going to make a pitch to potential investors to invest in," he said. "They worked in their teams to create and research and come up with the companies they wanted to include and then put together a presentation.”

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Students Lucas May and Torie Johnson-Pratt work on a stock purchase report for their Rollin’ in the Dough project at Dennis School Thursday.

Project-based learning is often used at Dennis, where students learn through hands-on, often real-life projects that require interaction with community members.

Creighton invited several members of the community to be the investors, seven of whom agreed to donate $100. Because the logistics of buying actual stock in small quantities were daunting, the students will watch their stocks over the next couple of months to see if the value goes up or down.

The investors will either make additional donations, if the stocks go up, or get some money back if the stocks go down.

Without “jumping through all the hoops,” as Creighton put it, which included paying taxes and other complications, the donors agreed to match the value of the portfolio as a donation to the school. The cash thus became part of the project, real and theoretical.

“We even had one station set up, and they met with somebody who Skyped in, who's a financial adviser by trade in the Chicago area,” Creighton said. “They got some feedback from investors and we used that feedback to match them up to people who were willing to donate to their cause.”

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Teacher Keith Creighton provides advice to students Lauren Hawkins and Rylan Knapp for their Rollin’ in the Dough project at Dennis School Thursday.

The students also worked with their investors to come up with a plan for the money after the project is complete. The project will end in April.

“It was a good experience for us to learn to talk to grown-ups and stuff,” said Selena Gaona-Willis, a seventh-grader. “It was a good lesson in time management, too, because we had time limits and deadlines. We had to work together a lot to do different things.”

Students can sell sooner if they decide it's the best financial decision, but all of them will “sell” by then. At that point, they'll know how much real-life money they have to work with to do something for their school.

“Some were talking about books, some were talking about PE equipment, beautifying different areas and spaces in the school building,” Creighton said. “From my standpoint, I thought it was really neat when they worked with the investors, to see sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students having adult conversations with adults who knew what they were talking about." 

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Teacher Brittany Acree and students Stanley Holshouser and Torie Johnson-Pratt react to new data while tracking stocks for the Rollin’ in the Dough project at Dennis School Thursday.

The project is mostly a social studies lesson, Creighton said, because state standards call for learning about financial responsibility and investments.

“We wanted to expose the students in a real way that made sense to them, to see these things in action,” he said. “We also wanted to have them talk to people who are in the profession to see that this is an option as a career path."

Emma Chavira, an eighth-grader, said her group chose to invest in Sirius XM, GoPro, Tower Semiconductor and Vonage, and since the beginning of the project in October, their choices have made gains.

“We were looking for stocks that people are familiar with,” she said. “And we looked for stocks that were different, so we'd have a variety, and that would have a chance of going up (in value).”

Makayla Johnson, a seventh-grader, didn't understand anything about stocks when the project began, she said.

“I started getting it in my brain when I started seeing the charts every month and seeing how it goes, and that almost every company has a stock,” she said. “It was really fun for me.”

She even has an app on her phone that helps her keep track of how various companies are doing on the market, especially the three her group chose: Wendy's, Snapchat and Twitter.

Part of the challenge of the project, said Bryson Neff, a seventh-grader, was working with people he didn't know well.

His group chose two pharmaceutical companies, but neither one is doing as well as they'd hoped. He said he should have put more time into research before settling on those companies.

“The end product of the (project) was pretty cool, that we got investors who chose to invest in our company if they thought we did well enough,” he said. “The project was really good fun.”

Aidan Thornell described himself as “a mature child,” and the stock market project was right up his alley. He was fascinated.

“I like to deal with a lot of numbers, and I like to deal with money because, well, it's money,” the seventh-grader said. 

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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