By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AT TIMES, ALEX BETRAS CAN SOUND like a seasoned Wall Street broker, even though she's just 11.
When asked about stock in Wendy's International, the hamburger chain's parent company, Alex enthusiastically recommended a buy.
"It just keeps getting better and better," said the sixth-grader at Canfield Village Middle School.
It might pay to take her advice.
On Wednesday, she and her fellow pupils in Loraine Pavalko-Stanfar's math class voted to buy stock in Tootsie Roll International, the company that produces the well-known chocolate candy.
That stock closed Thursday up 16 cents from Wednesday morning.
"You might be getting the hang of this after all," Kevin Helmick, an investment adviser with Farmers National Bank, told the pupils while discussing their portfolio.
Helmick has been advising Canfield sixth-graders as they play the market with $2,500 donated by Jim Centofanti, who retired as owner of Canfield Equipment. This is the first year of the stock-buying program.
Centofanti said he hopes the donation helps pupils learn the ins and outs of the stock market and the financial world.
"It shows that every stock's not going to be a moneymaker and every stock's not going to be a loser," he said.
Pupils have been divided into two teams. Each has its own portfolio and each votes on what stocks to buy and sell.
How it's going: So far, the teams have bought a mixture of moneymakers and losers, although they've lost more than they've earned.
Their portfolios have included stock in Best Buy, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Sony and Toys "R" Us.
Wednesday, the class discussed selling its Hershey Foods stock, which had dropped in value. Meanwhile, the class expressed interest in buying stock in the company that owns Cedar Point amusement park.
"They're opening up and they have a new ride opening up, so it could do good," said Courtney Franklin, 11.
The class also discussed the status of their stock in General Motors, which has increased by $6.37 per share. Helmick cautioned the pupils about holding a stock in an automobile company while violence escalates in the Middle East.
"The oil prices are going up really high and they're a car company," said Rachel Kadar, 12. Helmick noted, "Maybe you won't see as many cars sold.
"It's hard to determine always how a stock is going to go," he said.
Twelve-year-old Josh Pankewicz, however, said Helmick and the program have taught him how not to pick losing stocks: The pupils learned how some trends and outside factors, such as wars, can have a negative impact on stock.
Kaitlin Brogley, also 12, added that she thinks the program will help her and her classmates decide if they want to be brokers. Matt Pierson, 12, said he thinks the program will make it easier for him to comprehend stock trends later in life.
"If you understand it now, it won't be as hard to understand in the future," he said.
Mark Graham, vice president for Farmers National Bank, said the program can teach pupils the importance of properly managing their money. He said it is "critical, absolutely critical" for pupils to learn money management skills.
"I think we've tried to give them some of the foundation and beginnings that they can relate to their individual, personal finances," Graham said. "They have to have an understanding [of finance] and how to be responsible."
Realistic program: Other schools have stock-buying programs to teach their pupils about the market and finance. Most, however, don't use real money. Middle School Principal Ron Infante said Canfield pupils enjoy the excitement of using real money in the market.
"[Centofanti] wanted it to be realistic, so they could see what happens with real money, with real stocks," he said.
State law prohibits school districts from trading in securities, so Centofanti keeps money for the program in his account at Farmers National Bank. The account is managed by Helmick, based on the votes of the pupils.
Centofanti said the money will be given to the school at the end of the year. Infante and Graham said they weren't sure how the school would spend the money.
Helmick spends about a half-hour advising each of the nine sixth-grade classes every other month. Pupils in the classes are given handouts showing how their stocks are faring.
Sixth-grade math teacher Mike Richards said he thinks the program helps teach pupils about math as well as finance. Pupils in the program discuss percentages, losses and gains.
Twelve-year-old Duane Mancini said he now knows how he can make money by holding onto profitable stocks. Jennifer Hudoc, also 12, added that she has learned the dangers of keeping stocks that lose money.
"People could lose their job, homes and a lot of money," she said.