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Internet games bring Congress, Wall Street to classroom

March 16, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

South Hagerstown High students have gained a new respect for the work done on Capitol Hill since they took on one of lawmakers' toughest jobs - putting together the federal budget.

The 10-week Virtual Congress game teaches students about the federal government by having them go through the actual process Congress uses to create the federal budget, said teacher Evelyn Williams.

"I thought they had it made down in Washington," said freshman Bryan Tingle, 14, who never realized the long hours that go into the budgeting process.

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"It's kind of hard. You need everything that is there, and you have to cut things. You have to make hard decisions. You have to negotiate."

The class as a whole plays the role of U.S. Representative for the 6th Maryland District, with groups within the class holding various subcommittee assignments, she said.

"What they're really doing is establishing the goals and priorities for the country," said Williams, who learned about the game through a magazine for social studies teachers.

Reaching agreement on a proposed bottom-line budget was tough. Different class members had different opinions about what was important, said Joy Knable, 14.

Getting fellow subcommittee members from other schools in the country to reach consensus will be even tougher, Knable suspects.

"This is going to get gruesome," said Knable, who admits she's having fun learning about the government.

While first-period students plunge into the federal budgeting process, Williams' last-period students are wheeling and dealing in an online version of The Stock Market Game.

The 10-week game teaches students how the stock market works by setting up simulated brokerage accounts, Williams said.

Teams compete by investing their initial $100,000 cash in common stocks listed on the American Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange.

Students go to the library two to three times a week and take turns using its Internet link for trading, she said. At the end of each week, students find out where they stand against 153 other teams from around Maryland.

To help get students started, investment broker Bill Abels Sr. came in to offer advice, Williams said.

Abels' firm - Wheat First Butcher Singer of Hagerstown - underwrote the $25 fees charged to the class' four teams, she said.

It's not the first time Williams has used the game, sponsored by the Center for Economic Education in Maryland.

"I used to do this at North High, but it was on paper," she said. "This is so much more fun."

It's been an interesting way to learn about the stock market, said Monique Jackson, 15, whose team has done best in the class.

Thanks to some wise picks - including Microsoft and Coca Cola - the team still had a little over $99,000 in cash and stocks as of last week, said teammate Sarah Branche, 15.

Branche said the team was quick to get rid of other stocks, like Pepsi and Nike.

"We thought that Nike would do pretty good because everybody buys stuff of Nike, but it did bad, so we sold out," she said.

Considering how well they've done, Branche said she wishes team members were playing with real money.

Veronica Koebel and her teammates, on the other hand, are glad they're not.

"We're really happy this is just a game or we'd really be in trouble," said Koebel, 15, whose team had just under $33,000 left as of last tally.

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