Howard County's Applications and Research Lab has won the last four state challenges in the Maryland Personal Finance Challenge Competition hosted by the Maryland Council on Economic Education.
On April 4, the winning streak continued at M&T Bank Stadium, where the students topped 29 high and middle school teams for the win. Maddy Halbach, the school's academy of finance instructor, and each team member of the Academy of Finance I team received $250, and will advance to the national competition in Missouri in May.
Applications and Research Lab's two teams of four students went head-to-head with nearly 200 students throughout the state in the four-hour competition, which featured a separate competition for middle schools.
The Academy of Finance I team at Applications and Research Lab includes Kai Archuleta, senior at Centennial High; Graham Schuckman, senior at Howard High; Alex Larsson, junior at Marriotts Ridge High; and Jonathan Taylor, senior at Long Reach High.
Greg Richards, junior at Long Reach High; Kaitlin Unkle, junior at Howard High; Ayodele Adelaja, senior at Altholton High; and Sanket Shah, junior at River Hill High are on the school's Academy of Finance II team.
Centennial and Mt. Hebron high school teams also participated in the challenge.
During Tuesday's challenge, students were quizzed on several financial subjects, including spending and credit, savings and investing, as well as income and money management. Short written quizzes on each topic were given to students, with two rounds for middle schools and three rounds for high schools. The two teams with the highest scores then advanced to the quiz bowl round.
"They had buzzers, so if you buzzed in first, you got to answer the question," said Mary Ann Hewitt, director of the MCEE. "The question could be, 'What is an IPO?' or 'What is the greatest effect of having a low credit score?' It's amazing how much the kids know."
Many jobs, especially in Maryland, require a credit score check, Hewitt said, which are common in positions for cyber security companies, defense contractors and financial officers. If students know how to achieve good credit, she said, it can help them attain their career goals in just about any field.
Halbach, who was named this year's Howard County Public School System Teacher of the Year in February, said her teams of 11th- and 12th-graders prepared for the competition every week as they worked with a financial planner. Understanding personal finance puts kids on "an equal playing field" as adults, she said.
"It gives them a chance to be able to make good financial decisions," Halbach said. "It has been awesome. It helps kids engage more in the classroom [and] they're able to apply what they're learning in a fun and engaging way when they're practicing it."
Jonathan Taylor said he and his team were selected to move on to the quiz bowl round on Tuesday, bringing the team closer to the state title.
"Our team did pretty good on the second and third rounds," Jonathan said. "I've had the opportunity to learn about the basics of financial literacy since I was young when my dad opened up a savings account for me and we talked about it a lot. I enjoy learning this stuff because I know it's helpful for me."
Kaitlin Unkle said both teams felt great about their latest success in the challenge.
"It's a unique opportunity and it definitely expands my knowledge of personal finance," Kaitlin said. "Both my parents majored in business, so I grew up with a passion for it."
The Applications and Research Lab's teams showed their true talent on Tuesday, Halbach said, and will now move on to the national level next month.
"Luck is where your hard work meets opportunity. They really made that happen for them," she said.