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High School Girls Prove Worthy Fund Managers

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Financial literacy education for school kids typically focuses on the very basics -- saving money, opening a bank account, paying bills. The ING-Girls Inc. Investment Challenge takes a much different approach, bringing Wall Street to local classrooms.

Teams of high school girls start off by learning all those fundamentals of managing money. Then the real challenge begins: Learning about stocks and mutual funds, the girls begin investing with $20,000 virtual portfolios (supplemented monthly over the course of the year until each team has received a total $50,000).

A program offered by ING and Girls Inc. gives students age 12 to 18 a chance to crack into portfolio management.

With their portfolios, they learn about core investing principles such as asset allocation, diversification, portfolio turnover and valuation. The girls invest in mutual funds for the first six months of the challenge, then move on to individual securities.

After three years, 75% of any gains in the portfolio will be paid by the ING Foundation to the girls in the form of Girls Inc. scholarships for post-secondary education; 25% of the gains will be given to the local Girls Inc. affiliate to support local programming. The original $50,000 principal is re-assigned to an incoming team.

The partnership with the ING Foundation and nonprofit Girls Inc., launched in 2009, runs in New York City, Denver, Los Angeles, Holyoke, Mass., Atlanta and Alameda County in California. The program is to expand soon to Houston and Washington, D.C.

>>Meet the 14-year-old CEO and other young entrepreneurs already drawing investor interest

The girls often proved expectations wrong, says Laurin Cathey, head of multicultural affairs for ING Americas (ING), who oversees the program.

To start with, they quickly outgrew the trading platform provided for them and wanted a better, up-to-the-minute system.

"Something that was more real-time and more accurate was a lot more attractive to them than something that was a delayed-response platform," he says.

ING also learned the girls, despite their age, were not overly aggressive or impulsive.

"We all thought they were just going to walk in and start spending money because it wasn't theirs and they didn't have a long history of knowledge relative to investing," Cathey says. "We all thought they would be very aggressive early on. But immediately they really started to weigh investment decisions -- so much so that early on a few of our teams were hesitant to get going because they were having very robust discussions about what were the right stocks to choose and right decisions to make."

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