Russo a financial expert by fifth grade


Rhodes fifth grader Cecily Russo received a surprise last week: she was announced as the winner of The Securities Industry and Financial Markets (SIFMA) Foundation's InvestWrite student essay competition.

A student in James Gemma's class, Russo had no idea she had won until just before her name was announced during a school-wide assembly last week. With her parents and grandparents hiding just behind the stage curtain, and the students around her sitting in silent anticipation of the announcement, she did not have an inkling she had won until an excerpt of her essay was read aloud.

"When I heard her say, 'Losing money is never a good objective whether it's in the stock market or being pick pocketed,' that's when I knew it was me," she said. "Mr. Gemma tricked us, and said that there was no winner this year.

Gemma said it's difficult to keep good news a secret, especially when he gets the news before the students. Gemma and Russo's family both heard the good news two weeks prior to the school assembly last week.

"We knew her essay was good, but you never know; you don't see the competition," said Russos father, Victor.

Her mother, Lisa Russo, found it hard not to celebrate, and not to brag during the weeks leading up to the announcement.

"It's hard to keep a secret like that; I like to brag," she said.

Vice President and National Director of the Stock Market Game Program, Elizabeth Reidel made her third annual trip to Rhodes for the announcement last Wednesday morning.

"We have been coming to visit Rhodes from New York City for three years in a row," said Reidel. "I saw last year's winner walking to school this morning as I was driving in.

Russo is the fifth winner from Gemma's class.

Reidel noted that 10,000 student essays had been entered into this year's fall contest and 2,100 of them were elementary entries like Russo's. There were 700 elementary finalists and 10 Rhode Island finalists.

The essay contest serves as the culminating activity for the Stock Market Game, which Gemma's class also participates in each year. The game, a unit of study focusing on financial literacy, has students analyzing real life investment scenarios, addressing real world factors and trends. Each student is given the chance to invest a hypothetical $100,000 in an online portfolio.

Although the students are playing a "game," they are actually learning economic and financial skills that can be used for the rest of their lives.

"When I graduated high school, I hadn't even taken an economics class," Reidel said. "The Stock Market Game is about investing, saving, learning about stocks, bonds and portfolios. When students take the time to write really high quality essays they are thinking and synthesizing what they are learning in Mr. Gemma's class.

In her essay, Russo was asked to discuss the three most important factors to research when selecting a stock, bond or mutual fund for her portfolio, such as purchase prices and stock sales or profits.

"She discussed the importance or purchasing a stock at its lowest price per share, determining that the company is progressive, and ensuring that the company has strong sales or profits," explained a SIFMA press release. "Apple met these requirements, according to Russo, and is positioned to grow."

According to her grandmother, Russo is the new financial advisor for the family.

"Someone was looking to buy a particular stock recently and Cecily went and looked it up, and advised against it, she said it was private," said Carole Mooney, Russos grandmother.

"The Stock Market Game was fun, I liked it a lot, and I learned a lot," Russo said.

The winners will be celebrating later this spring at a banquet in Newport. At that time, both the fall and spring winners will be recognized. In past years, Gemma's class has had winners in the spring as well, based on their participation in the program and essay contest during the second semester of the school year.

"Mr. Gemma firmly believes in setting the bar high for his students. He uses InvestWrite to apply standard curricular lessons to a real world scenario and has found that this experience encourages students' communication with parents and family members. By doing so, the students' level of confidence increases exponentially," SIMFA said in their press release.

For more information on the Stock Market Game visit


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