OWATONNA — Several Owatonna High School students — as well as OHS business teacher Tate Cummins — were honored at the BestPrep conference in Minneapolis Tuesday.
With more than 600 educators participating annually in BestPrep programs, the Teacher of Excellence Award, which Cummins received Tuesday, “serves to recognize the top 2 percent of those who go above and beyond in their commitment to educating Minnesota youth,” according to Greg Orvik, project manager for the stock market game. Cummins was able to meet and network with other award winners prior to Tuesday’s luncheon, including Ben Fowke, chairman and CEO of Xcel Energy, who was the keynote speaker at the event.
OHS junior Jacob McMains finished first during the winter season in the stock market game, with his performance topping over 1,300 of his peers around Minnesota, McMains said. The BestPrep stock market game is part of a personal finance course taught by Cummins.
Students started with a hypothetical $100,000 and were able to invest the money over several months, McMains said. When he was finished, he’d made $20,000, more than any of his competitors.
The feat is all the more impressive when one considers this was the first business class McMains had ever taken, he said. He felt learning how to do his taxes, save money, and buy a car would all be necessary skills “when you’re out on your own,” and they were all touched upon in the course.
“I really liked it from the beginning, and I guess I was good at it,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a good life skills class.”
No doubt, “these are lifelong skills we’re trying to teach,” said Cummins, who is in his sixth year teaching the course. While students “get a taste” of monetary strategy when they land their first jobs, “it gets a lot more serious” after they graduate high school.
For example, they’ll likely have student loans, they’ll be moving out of their childhood homes and renting new space, and they may be buying a car, he said. “We’re trying to get them on a fast track.”
“We live in a society where people want things right now,” he added. Consequently, “credit card debt is a big pitfall.”
Indeed, nearly 50 percent of adults with debt are carrying more than $25,000 worth of debt, excluding mortgages, according to a recent survey conducted by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. Furthermore, nearly one in five adults with debt spend more than half their monthly income on debt repayment, excluding mortgages.
Additionally, as of December, indebted households had credit card balances averaging $16,061, according to a NerdWallet report. The average credit-card interest rate as of late last year was 18.76 percent, and the average household pays a total of $1,292 in credit-card interest each year.
In the personal finance class, Cummins tries to impart the value of purchasing within reason and holding back on bigger ticket items that will mean serious debt, he said.
“If you wait, eventually you’ll be able to have those things,” said Cummins.
The stock market game “is a cornerstone” of a highly-popular class, and most students look forward to it, he said. OHS has excelled in the game, winning in 2004, 2007, 2014 and 2015, but this was “by far our best overall year playing the game,” he said.
In addition to McMains, Zach Kraus, Derek Johnson, Brady Schuster and Zach Mensink also performed with distinction during the winter period, he said. For the season, which lasted even longer, Evan Huemoeller and Nick Mullenbach, and Ben Zappa and Luke Kubicek, finished first and second.
“Our students continue to impress us and continue to exceed our expectations,” Cummins added. “This has been a very successful season due to their hard work, professionalism, and analysis.”
McMains began each morning by checking the Twitter feed of Chad Curtis, a day trader who posts five to 10 stocks to watch, many in the healthcare field, a few minutes before the market opens, McMains said. Curtis was recommended by Cummins, and if McMains also fancied a stock Curtis highlighted, he’d buy it.
Curtis highlighted a bioscience company that recently found success with a cancer drug and then was bought by another company, and the stock McMains bought in them accounted for a preponderance of his profits during the game, he said. In fact, McMains held onto the stock a little too long, as it increased in value over 100 percent, then dipped back under 100 percent before McMains sold.
Of course, McMains also dropped roughly $6,000 when he shorted another company Curtis was bearish on, he said. That company continued to rise significantly in value after McMains sold it.
McMains “was very engaged and spent considerable time researching and staying on top of his stocks,” Cummins said. “I know early in the game he had a large loss,” but “he was able to overcome [that] with some very strong decisions later in the season.”
Despite making more money than any of his fellow traders in the game, McMains was initially mired at the bottom of the competition, which proves again how fickle the market can be, with fortunes rising and falling in a matter of days — or even hours — he said.
“It shows how dangerous and scary it can be to invest real money,” said McMains.
Indeed, he attributes some of his victory to the fact he wasn’t investing his actual cash, he said. He could afford to “take more risks.”
He also learned how various forces impact both individual stocks and the market as a whole, he said. For example, when airlines received bad press for removing passengers, their stocks took a hit.
Additionally, whenever President Donald Trump fell under significant criticism, the markets plummeted. McMains recalled a particularly dark week during the administration’s disastrous travel ban rollout.
In the game, students can only utilize stocks trading at $3 or more, and stocks also need a minimum level of market capitalization, Cummins said. Students monitor NASDAQ and Yahoo finance, as well as the business sections of newspapers like USA Today and the New York Times, to research the market.
To flourish in the game, students must “take the time to read articles, research the histories of companies and look at financial statements,” he said. Students have found opportunities not only in buying rising stocks, but also shorting falling stocks.
In addition to the awards, Tuesday’s ceremony is always a terrific networking opportunity. Each table features a combination of business representatives, award winners, students, teachers and volunteers.
McMains has long been interested in computer science, but this entire business experience has him looking much closer at finance when he examines potential colleges, he said. He’s considering minoring in finance, or even double-majoring in computer science and finance.