Q&A with Jones College Prep

Located just south of Chicago’s Loop, Jones College Prep is one of the closest high schools to the city’s financial center, just a short walk from the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Stock Exchange. It is easy to understand then why the selective enrollment school was one of the earliest participants in both the Magnetar Academy curriculum and the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge, joining the event in 2014.

Russ Kerr, a math teacher at Jones and a former futures trader, organizes the school’s team each year. Kerr began teaching the Magnetar curriculum as part of an after school club, and this year he’s incorporating it into a classroom setting as well via his new financial algebra class. The course has four sections of about 25 students each, comprised mostly of seniors but with some juniors as well. It covers a wide range of personal finance topics, from student loans to credit cards to tax returns, and incorporates math to help students better comprehend the concepts. In preparation for the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge, the course is also covering stock research.

Read on to hear what Kerr and one of his students had to say about their experience with the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge and the Magnetar curriculum.

Pictured is Jones College Prep at the 2017 Magnetar Academy Team Challenge.

Russ Kerr, teacher

What excites your students about the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge?

It’s hard at first, because [the students] don’t really know what they’re getting themselves into. They’re always a little reluctant to sign up at first, as students are apprehensive about giving up a Saturday for something school-related. But once they participate, they all love the competition — every year, I always have kids who want to do it again.

Being part of such a big competition is very exciting for the students. They get to actively put together a portfolio of stocks, they’re making quick decisions. I tell the kids, this gives you a good picture of what a trading job actually looks like.

What lessons does the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge teach to students?

It teaches students how to look up the economic numbers and think about how the market might react to those numbers. For example, what types of stocks do you think might be better served if you think the market will go up? The Challenge offers a unique opportunity to explore these questions in practice.

Just as important, the students see the importance of more general skills, like teamwork and working together. When you have 8–10 students surrounding a computer, it can be tough to get things done. So working as a team and having a structure in place is really important.

The other thing I tell the kids is to try to talk to the coaches, people who have worked in financial services industry. Pick their brains, ask about their careers. These are the people who are actually doing these types of activities in their lives, so they can offer great perspective.

How has your school performed in the years past?

We have typically been in the middle of the pack. Last year we came in last place, as we got a little crazy with our strategy. To win the competition, you have to take calculated risks — being too diversified, you’ll probably end up in middle of the pack. We were up at the top in the first round last year, and then we dropped a bit, so we put all our eggs in one basket. So it was an excellent teaching moment: it showed everyone the importance of being diversified.

Karolina Kalata, current senior

What was the most enjoyable part of the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge?

What I enjoyed most about the Challenge in previous years was the rush the stock market and competition brought. You can hear all the other students discussing what to do and you have to be able to multitask while the stock market might crash at any given second. It was really exciting.

Why is it important to learn about finance?

It’s important to learn about finance because it is essential to know how to manage one’s finances in everyday life. Finance is something that is not typically taught in an average classroom setting so it is important to take the initiative and learn about it so in the future, you will not have to struggle with understanding or managing your finances.

What lessons did you learn from the Magnetar Academy Team Challenge?

After the Challenge, I really learned that diversification is key. Even if one stock is doing incredibly well, you must not just rely on that stock to bring in all your profit. I also learned that you should always be paying attention to local news because it affects how the stocks will perform. There is a lot to pay attention to, and if you only give one aspect the most attention, you won’t do well.

How do you think you will use what you’ve learned at The Magnetar Academy Team Challenge and through the Magnetar Academy curriculum?

I plan to use what I learned by investing in stocks in my near future so that I can benefit from my long-term investments. What I learned at the Challenge will help me diversify my portfolio when investing in stocks, and that way, I can get the most efficient investment. Investing in stocks will help me with my finances in the future.