More than 1,200 seventh-grade students in Northern Kentucky are sharpening their math skills and learning the value of long-term stock investing through a unique partnership between the Kenton County School District and Fidelity Investments in Covington.

Now in its second year, “Investing in Students, Making Math Count” has been expanded to all four Kenton County middle schools and to Holmes Middle School in neighboring Covington Independent Public Schools.

The program, which runs from October through March, incorporates an investment simulation game called Portfolios, developed and modified for seventh graders by Stuart Crickmer, who develops investment education for adults and students. He also developed a 10-week online investment challenge. It allows students to accumulate virtual dollars and invest them by correctly answering questions from a brief lesson.

High-Energy Math Tourney

Several hundred volunteers from Fidelity’s Covington campus go into the classrooms a couple times during the year to introduce the game and related investment topics. Fidelity also hosts a high-energy Final Four-style tournament, this year on April 5, for the top 128 students who compete in two-person teams for prizes.

“It’s really getting the kids engaged in a meaningful way in learning how to use math concepts through a learning activity,” says Terri Cox-Cruey, superintendent of Kenton County Schools. “It’s a skill they’ll be able to take into adulthood.”

For Fidelity, the program is an opportunity to advance its mission to improve financial literacy and be involved in the community, says Kelli Gilbert, community relations director for the company, which employs 4,000 at its Covington campus.

The program grew out of conversations between Gilbert and Cox-Cruey a couple of years ago on how the district and the company could work together. It was just as the district was looking to implement the more rigorous math requirements in the new Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

“It’s been a real good partnership,” says Jennifer Barrett, secondary math consultant for the district. “We spent a lot of time the first year making sure it addressed the standards at the seventh-grade level and finding where it was most appropriate.”

Measureable Impact

After analysis by Northern Kentucky University showed the impact of the program, piloted last year for about 600 seventh graders at Kenton County’s Turkey Foot and Woodland middle schools, the district expanded to its other middle schools.

NKU’s analysis of student test scores showed those who participated in the program scored better on standardized tests than those who didn’t, says Barrett.

“Last year it took a little while to get the students to buy in. This year, from the beginning, kids heard about (how) it (worked) last year and were more excited about it. We’ve had more participation this year, so we’re hoping we’ll see more of a change.”

Cox-Cruey says NKU plans to continue monitoring student performance on standardized tests to gauge the impact.

Crickmer, a former investment manager and president of Omniology LLC in Florence, says students absorb and retain more information when they’re emotionally involved.

“The competitive element is a big driver,” he says. It’s something he learned by accident a number of years ago as he was developing Portfolio. In presenting the investment game to students, he and his wife Sharon, who works with him, tried to skip doing the percentages and calculating gains to save time.

“Students refused to not do the math,” he says. “They wanted to know who was winning.”

Portfolio isn’t a stock-picking game, Crickmer emphasizes. Rather, it focuses on the value of investing over time in either conservative, balanced or aggressive-growth stocks. Each week in the online component, for example, represents four years, so at the end of the 10-week online segment the students will see the impact of their investing over a 40-year period.

Willing Volunteers

Gilbert says Fidelity employees have embraced the opportunity to volunteer.

“It’s really different from their day-to-day job and it’s an opportunity to be engaged with the students,” she says.

Beyond the math and financial literacy, Cox-Cruey says the program has a career education aspect.

“I value this partnership because it’s taking people in the jobs they do and know well and incorporating them into the school so kids can see this is somebody’s job,” she says.

“It strengthens what they need to learn right now for math, and they’re learning about the reality of the world when they leave here.”

The Fifth Third Bank Entrepreneurship Institute at Northern Kentucky University announced that Bob Castellini has been selected as the Master Entrepreneur for the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati region for 2013.

Castellini is president and CEO of the Castellini Group of Companies and has owned the Cincinnati Reds since 2006.

An exclusive honor, the Master Entrepreneur is chosen by NKU entrepreneurship students after due diligence. The students’ choice is then evaluated and ultimately approved by members of the institute’s advisory board.

An important criterion is that the individual has thrived and developed multiple ventures in the area and has solid evidence of giving back to the community.

As students performed their research on the many important and successful candidates, Castellini’s success in business, careful stewardship of the beloved Reds and generous philanthropy quickly distinguished him.

The institute provides applied co-curricular programs, activities and events for students from all majors who have an interest in all things entrepreneurial. The institute works to generate competent, confident graduates who are ready to work and succeed after graduation.