BILOXI -- Nine-year-old Alec Bray was overjoyed when he was applauded by his fellow classmates at Jeff Davis Elementary School's gymnasium.
Sitting among several hundred third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, he heard his instructor, Traci McDill, speak about an essay contest he participated in. The shock came when McDill called out Bray's name for not only having the best essay in his school, but the best in the entire state and also one of the best in the country.
Bray, a fourth-grader, placed fourth in the nation and first in Mississippi for his essay on financial literacy and stock market investing, having taken part in a writing program named InvestWrite.
The nationwide contest was part of the Stock Market Game program, sponsored by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). The Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE) also was a statewide co-sponsor.
"It was an important essay because I wanted to make my teachers proud," Bray said after receiving his certificate and balloons, and, more importantly, a $200 prize.
Bray's essay was extensively judged and selected from more than 20,000 young contestants throughout the nation.
His essay centered on Apple Inc., his favorite stock in his portfolio. Inspired by his uncle, who works in financial marketing, Bray detailed why Apple was a good long-term investment and described the company's impact on national and global economies.
"It is the most important technology company in the world and it creates products and services that help our community and other communities around the world," Bray said.
"I was shocked," Lt. Colonel Kevin Bray said about his son's accomplishment. He and his wife Robin, Bray's mother, were invited to witness the surprise celebration.
"He probably knows more than me now," Kevin Bray joked. "He's attached to his iPad and has been for about six years."
Stock investing has become a mainstay program at Jeff Davis.
"It is a critical thinking assignment and supports the College and Career Ready State Standards for English Language Arts," said Selena Swartzfager, president of MCEE. "All teachers enrolling their students in the Mississippi Stock Market Game are encouraged to also enroll them in the InvestWrite competition."
Swartzfager praised the students on their knowledge of the stock market after taking them through a question-and-answer session.
"I was a grown-up before I knew what the stock market was and it's really impressive that you already know," she said.
"It's a really big honor for our school," said Dr. Melanie Nelson, Jeff Davis principal. "Our teachers work tirelessly to impress upon children what it's like to advance beyond school. How to budget money and watch the stocks, that's not something that you see very often being taught at the elementary level."