FONTANA — Not many students are at Fontana Elementary School at 7:30 in the morning.
The hallways are quiet, the backpacks are missing, the buses won’t come for an hour.
On Thursdays, though, eight students gather with two teachers to experience math in a way they can’t in the classroom.
Jennifer Smithyman, the school’s gifted and talented coordinator, and Dawn Sammons, fourth-grade teacher, are in charge of the math club and the stock market club.
“We try to split the time between the two topics,” Sammons said.
For the first half of the early morning club meeting, the students are trying out geometry with varying levels of success.
In groups of two and three, the students are trying to make a tower of newspaper that can hold the weight of a paper plate. The group with the highest tower wins a yet-to-be-determined prize.
Sammons shows the students how engineers used triangles to hold the most weight. “It’s the strongest shape,” she said to the students. “Try to apply that shape to your tower designs.”
The math club is not just about equations and numbers.
“We’re trying to challenge the kids,” Sammons said. “We use incentives to challenge the math skills they learn in the classrooms. We apply the lessons they learn in school to exercises we don’t have time for in the classroom.”
These practical exercises don’t seem like learning. The students are laughing and joking with each other.
Only one of the three student groups had a successful tower. That group used a triangular-type shape for its tower.
After the group finishes with their towers, they move into the library to look up stock market fluctuations.
Josh Navin and Christian Karabas have Apple stock, and they log into Google Finance to see the change in the stock prices.
Smithyman said the students choose companies they’re familiar with: Target, Walmart, Amazon and Apple.
They aren’t trading “penny stocks,” either. Each share has to be valued at $5 or more to count in the statewide competition.
Penny stocks are those valued below $5 per share.
“I’ve had some kids who are in high school now that went through this program,” Smithyman said. “Some of them still want to be stock traders. It’s great.”
While no real money is involved, real learning is. These students are using a curriculum from Robert W. Baird, a national financial advising company. The students are taught about having diversified investment portfolios, gainers and losers in the marketplace, sectors and riding out the market changes.
Sectors are a way of classifying stocks, based on industry, like medical, communications or mining.
“They’re just trading in single shares,” Smithyman said. “They aren’t in any funds or commodities.”
Penny Brooks bought more shares before the market opened.
“What does this mean?” she asked Smithyman.
“The system will buy the stocks for you when the market opens after 9,” Smithyman said.
“With that confirmation, it just means that you won’t see the stock in your portfolio until after the markets open.”
While their fake investments don’t bring real financial returns, they do bring back better educated students.
“I wish I had this kind of education when I was younger,” Smithyman said. “Investing was kind of foreign to me for a long time.”