By John Tozzi
Two eighth-grade classes at Yeshiva Har Torah, a new Jewish school just south of the Grand Central Parkway in Little Neck, chose stock portfolios to play on paper as part of a national contest sponsored by Citigroup Smith Barney. The school was one of 50 across the country to be chosen for the contest.”I don't think it's ever too early to start teaching them about wise ways of making their money grow,” said Frances Sigal, a social studies teacher at the school. Two of her classes spent three days studying the stock market, culminating in a lesson from a Smith Barney financial adviser.The classes picked stocks to track over 12 weeks. The students from the class whose portfolio gains the most will be awarded with one share of Citigroup stock.”It's very important for them to learn about finances as early as possible so they feel responsible with their money,” said Bernice Holtzman, a Forest Hills parent whose daughter Miriam participated in the contest. Several parents sat in on the class.On a Thursday afternoon, the students listened to Smith Barney adviser Eric Rosen explain the basics of financial literacy: the difference between public and private companies, how shares are bought and sold, what factors can affect a stock's price, and the risks of investing.”Your goal in the stock market is to buy stocks low and sell them high,” he said. “The selling part is the tough part.”Last year's contest was a case in point. Over the 12 weeks, only three of the 100 portfolios chosen had gained at all. The S&P 500 index was down 5 percent over that period, he said, and the winning class had a gain of only .85 percent.From a list of 25 stocks Rosen prepared, the classes chose a handful to track, settling on companies such as Estee Lauder, Marriott International, John Deere and UPS.”It's just another dimension to the education that kids get,” said the school's principal, Rabbi Gary Menchel. “I think exposing students at this age to a better picture of the financial world…is something that is an important component of being part of American society and of being literate and educated in general,” he said.Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 188.