CHS teen offers financial advice, wins national essay competition

  • Concord High senior Johanna Van Fleet (center) accepts her first-place award for the Fall 2018 InvestWrite national essay competition at Concord High School on Wednesday. Her teacher, Bill Crowley (left) watches on. Courtesy

Published: 2/21/2019 6:26:18 PM

Johanna Van Fleet may still be in high school, but she knows as much about stocks, bonds and mutual funds as her friends do about emojis and apps – and now she’s offering that winning advice to a famous entrepreneur!

Van Fleet recommended an investment portfolio for Yvon Chouinard, of Patagonia, that was so compelling it won her first place in New Hampshire in the SIFMA Foundation’s Fall 2018 InvestWrite competition. From P/E ratios and ROIs to retirement planning and asset classes, Van Fleet’s broad knowledge of investing enabled this impressive senior from Concord High School in Concord, to climb to the top of the competition in New Hampshire for high school.

InvestWrite is a national essay competition that bridges classroom learning in mathematics, social studies, and language arts with the practical research and knowledge required for long-term personal financial planning, enhancing students’ ability across important academic and life skills. The competition serves as a culminating activity for participants in the SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game program.

“The SIFMA Foundation honors and congratulates our InvestWrite winner Johanna Van Fleet and her teacher Bill Crowley,” said Melanie Mortimer, President of the SIFMA Foundation. “By making economics fun, interesting and relevant through The Stock Market Game and InvestWrite, we can give students of all backgrounds a better understanding of their personal financial lives, our economy, and the opportunities inherent in the global capital markets.”

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, millions of adolescents are struggling with low literacy skills and less than half of eighth grade students are performing proficiently in reading, math and personal finance. SIFMA Foundation’s programs fill this gap for 600,000 students each year and enable schools across the country to effectively address the three Rs of education – reading, writing, arithmetic.

SIFMA Foundation programs are also preparing students like Van Fleet for their financial lives. The SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game™, an online simulation of the global capital markets for 4th through 12th grade students, reinforces STEM learning and 21st Century skills as well as economics and personal finance. InvestWrite builds on what students learn in The Stock Market Game to further explore practical financial decision-making. Students gain confidence and a deeper understanding of economic opportunities, consequences, and benefits. They consider real-world events and news, conduct research online, and develop investment recommendations. Where they work in groups during The Stock Market Game program, InvestWrite participants write individual essays to reflect their critical thinking, analysis and creative talents. Since InvestWrite’s launch in 2004, almost 229,000 students have submitted essays.

The Fall 2018 InvestWrite competition required students to select an entrepreneur they admire, research their company and explain how they would advise the entrepreneur to invest the company’s assets. Johanna Van Fleet highlighted the leadership of Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. Van Fleet indicated in her essay that she would recommend the company issue an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and said, “This would make their stocks available to the public to invest in and would raise their capital. With more capital, the company would have more opportunities to invest in other initiatives and strengthen manufacturing practices.” Van Fleet concluded, “To grow the company and further his goals, Chouinard should make an IPO to raise capital and then invest the capital in manufacturing and environmental initiatives.”

Winning InvestWrite essays are chosen through rigorous judging by thousands of teachers and industry professionals who evaluate students’ understanding of long-term investing, diversification, the global capital markets, and factors that drive investments as well as their expression of investment ideas in essay form. Winners receive exciting awards and prizes including laptops, classroom pizza parties, trophies, plaques and banners, and certificates. The first-place national winners in middle school and high school are awarded a three-day all-expense paid trip to New York City, the financial capital of the world, with their teacher and a parent.

An independent, double-blind, nationally randomized evaluation conducted by Learning Point Associates (now AIR) found that The Stock Market Game improves students’ academic achievement and personal financial behavior. Students who participated in the SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game scored significantly higher on mathematics and financial literacy tests than their peers who did not participate. They also found that teachers who taught The Stock Market Game reported that the program motivated them to better plan for their own financial futures. The Stock Market Game has been named the only program that successfully increased scores on the Jumpstart Coalition’s test of high school students’ financial literacy.

Johanna Van Fleet and her teacher, Bill Crowley, were honored at an event Wednesday afternoon at Concord High School, 170 Warren St. Representatives of the SIFMA Foundation and SIFMA member firm, Fidelity, will be present to recognize the student, teacher, parents and the school.

Below is Van Fleet’s full essay.

‘Climbing the Capital Markets’ by Johanna Van Fleet

Entrepreneurs play a critical role in the economy by promoting economic growth and freedom among citizens. Their innovations contribute to key economic factors, such as creating new businesses, adding to national income and leading to social change. Overall, entrepreneurs can improve a nation’s standard of living and lead to a prosperous society. I chose Yvon Chouinard as my entrepreneur, because he does all these things through his company, Patagonia. Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s original founder, was born on November 9, 1938 in Lewiston, Maine. His love for the outdoors and adventure started at the age of 14, when he began rock climbing for the Southern California Falconry Club. His career budded from there, and in 1957 he began hand-making pitons for climbing. At the beginning of his business, which he named “Chouinard Equipment,” he made all his gear in the small shop he built in his parents’ backyard. Eventually, his business became so highly demanded that he could no longer make the equipment by hand. This is when he went into partnership with Tom Frost, who was an aeronautical engineer as well as a climber. During the nine years that Frost and Chouinard were partners, they worked together to redesign and improve almost every climbing tool.

However, as Chouinard Equipment had gained momentum, so had the art of climbing. Chouinard quickly realized that although climbing was fun, it was also extremely harmful to the fragile rocks of the mountains. El Dorado Canyon, the Shawangunks, and Yosemite Valley were at risk of disfiguration because of the repeated hammering of the pitons. Chouinard decided that pitons had become an environmental villain and decided to stop making them. Although it was a huge business risk for him to stop making pitons, he decided that the environmental benefit was worth his personal risk. Due to Chouinard’s extensive background and education from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he knew how to transfer his company into offering a new product without relapse. This is when Chouinard began offering outdoor clothing and created Patagonia. Patagonia remains a unique company, as it is based not only on the satisfaction of the customer but also being as environmentally friendly as possible. Compared to other outdoor clothing and equipment companies, Patagonia offers their customers a lifetime warranty, and contributes money towards environmental grant programs and initiatives. According to ABC News, Patagonia currently donates 1 % of sales to environmental groups every year, and on November 28, 2018, Patagonia donated $10 million in GOP tax cut money to environmental programs around the United States.

Their mission statement is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

For Patagonia to obtain more capital resources and expand their company, I recommend that it should make an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of their stock in the amount of $60 per share. This would make their stocks available to the public to invest in and would raise their capital. With more capital, the company would have more opportunities to invest in other initiatives and strengthen manufacturing practices. Currently, Patagonia sources more than half of its products outside the United States, due to the decrease in the textile industry. The shrinking textile industry in the United States is mainly because of trade agreements, including NAFTA (duty free with Mexico & Canada), CAFTA (duty free with Central American countries), ATPA (duty free with Colombia and other Andean countries), and IFTA (duty free from Israel). All these trade agreements have directly contributed to the dramatic decline in the textile-based and sewn-product industries since 1994.

This has become an obstacle for Patagonia because one of their main goals is to be environmentally friendly. Therefore, I think they should use their capital to invest in their own manufacturer in the United States for their materials. This would help Patagonia see increased financial return, because there would be less importing of materials and it would align with their values more directly. I also recommend that with the additional capital, Patagonia should put more money into environmental initiatives, such as renewable energy companies. On November 28, 2018, Chouinard stated, “Our government continues to ignore the seriousness and causes of the climate crisis. It is pure evil. We need to double down on renewable energy solutions.” This reflects Chouinard’s goal to shift toward renewable energy, which makes it a realistic investment for Patagonia. This investment would be positive press for the company and could lead to an increased number of investors and increased consumer demand.

In conclusion, Yvon Chouinard is a key entrepreneur who helps improve the economy and lead to social change. Through his business, he has created new jobs, added to national income, and raised awareness on sustainable alternatives for clothing. To grow the company and further his goals, Chouinard should make an IPO to raise capital and then invest the capital in manufacturing and environmental initiatives.

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