Kids come to Crossroads, a Mesa alternative school, when they have severe emotional problems that make it tough to fit into traditional classrooms.
Students who cut themselves, who are morbidly obese, who have extreme social anxiety or who may have been teased or ostracized to the point of wanting to drop out of school for good find that, at Crossroads, the Mesa Unified School District was able to create a place specifically for them.
The school opened last year and now has about 90 students, some staying all year and others heading back to their home schools once they’ve addressed their issues.
“Some of these kids have been wounded, but we’re here to pump the life into them,” said Edna Weekly, the school’s principal.
These students would be labeled at risk academically by most standards, but Crossroads teachers and administrators don’t allow students to merely skate by, learning the minimum.
“We learn everything students in the other junior high schools learn,” said teacher Colleen Hogan. “We have the same curriculum and standards to meet.”
This year, students are involved in a national stock-trading competition in which they are excelling and their teachers and principal, and even the district administration, have noted that it is an achievement.
The Stock Market Game is an online simulation exercise where students are given a theoretical $100,000, and then, over a 10-week period, invest it in the market however they choose. The student, or team of students, earning the most money in 10 weeks wins.
Crossroads students currently hold first through sixth places. Students also placed first, second and fourth in the state competition sponsored through the Arizona Council on Economic Education.
Eighth-grader Kameron Poole, first-place winner in the state competition, is now in the running for first place nationally. He’s a tall, quiet boy, slightly embarrassed that his mom showed up in his class and is raving about him.
“That’s my baby,” his mother, Lillia Poole, said when she saw Kameron’s investments are making him more money than the leaders in the high school division have been able to accumulate. He’s made more than $50,000 on his initial $100,000.
Over the course of the project, students learn about the Simple Money Average, gap downs, umbrella funds and emerging nations. They’re able to read a chart and know, by the track of a line, whether it’s a good time to invest.
Catherine Coleman is a retired Mesa schoolteacher who rejoined the district on a part-time basis at Crossroads and took on the stock market project as her own.
Coleman says her goal is to push economic knowledge on young people because too many young adults have no idea how money and investments work.
“Kids can’t see,” she said. “They think, ‘I’ll never be 60.’ Well, hopefully, they will, and it would be great if they were prepared.”
Hogan said she is proud of how her students have embraced the stock market project and encouraged one another along the way.
Her classroom is a “one-room schoolhouse” environment where the 18 seventh- and eighth-graders spend the entire day together, learning all their subjects.
The stock market game is not only helping them improve their math skills, she said, but to understand important life skills that may help them apply for college financial aid and scholarships.
Principal Weekly said the contest is also helping boost her students’ self-esteem because they are competing against, and surpassing the performance of honors students from other schools.
“These kids can do it,” Weekly said. “They may be ‘alternative kids,’ but they are beautiful and bright. We need to tap into these kids and say ‘you have a light.’ ”