Nicholas "Nico" Taber took to heart a school writing assignment to create a superhero who helps people invest their money wisely, and — with no cape or superpowers of his own — managed to soar above the competition.
The fifth-grade student at Pointers Run Elementary in Clarksville claimed a national first-place trophy for his essay detailing the overspending-ending exploits of Cassius King, a Diver City physical education teacher whose secret superhero identity is Beta-Bot.
For grown-ups not catching the jokes, think "Cash is king" and "Diversity."
It was Nico's ability to write an entertaining and educational story that would appeal on different levels to students and adults that scored big with an independent panel of judges for the InvestWrite competition. The story describes the epic battle between Beta-Bot and the evil Trend Setters, who entice followers to spend frivolously at the mall.
The 11-year-old's essay was chosen as the top winner in the elementary school division of the national contest.
The contest helps crystallize what the 20,000 students who enter in three divisions learn each year from playing the Stock Market Game, a nationwide educational simulation course also invented by the SIFMA Foundation, an arm of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
The Maryland Council on Economic Education, a 60-year-old organization that operates through Towson University's College of Business and Economics, administers the simulation program and writing competition in state schools.
"This is a good way to teach kids about saving and investing, and to reinforce ideas taught in Common Core," said Allen Cox, the managing director of the council's Maryland Coalition for Financial Literacy.
About 600,000 students nationwide play the Stock Market Game each year, though entering the complementary essay competition is optional, he said.
Nico said he got a lot out of the class.
"I learned two important things: to invest for the long term and to diversify stocks," he said, adding he was "surprised and super happy" to learn his essay had won.
He plays travel hockey and soccer and has a black belt in tae kwon do, but Nico also loves math and enjoys science and social studies as well.
The younger son of Richard and Dr. Kate Taber took part in the Stock Market Game as an optional gifted and talented instructional seminar offered to interested fourth- and fifth-grade students. Nico has a 15-year-old brother, Alex, who attends Atholton High School.
The 10-week course, in which each students get a virtual $100,000 to invest, is offered twice a year and meets once a week during lunch and recess periods.
Amy Cargiulo, who leads the class as a gifted and talented resource teacher at Pointers Run, knew Nico had accomplished something extraordinary when he submitted his InvestWrite essay to her.
"I felt when I read it that it was really special, but you never can be sure what judges are looking for," she said. "Nicholas is incredibly mature, thoughtful and intellectual, and he worked so hard for this."
Cargiulo's students have been submitting essays over the past eight years, but this was the first year someone from her class has won the top prize. Pointers Run fifth-grader Katelyn Herberholz won a sixth-place national award in the fall.
Nico's parents agreed to keep his win a surprise until the MCEE ceremony, though getting him to the awards event wasn't easy.
"He couldn't figure out why we had kept him home from school to have lunch with his mother," said Richard Taber, who noted his wife works as a gynecologist near Towson University, where the May 20 awards ceremony was held.
"When we got there we bumped into Ms. Cargiulo in the parking garage," he said with a laugh. "We told him we had no idea why she was there."
Kate Taber said her son "works very hard, but stays humble." She and her husband, who works in the bakery department at Wegmans, "couldn't be more proud" that he won.
Aside from the trophy, Nico received a medal and a plaque, touch-screen computer, digital camera and, for his school, $750 and a pizza party. Four years ago he won first place in a national competition called First in Math.