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US High Schoolers Display Prowess in Economics

Credit. Inflation. Mortgage. These may be hot topics in discussions of the current economic crisis, but they are not typically popular subjects among U.S. teens. The National Council on Economics Education is trying to change that. In New York, the organization hosted an event this week that pitted top U.S. secondary school students against each other in a competition to show off their economic knowledge. From VOA's New York Bureau, Alex Villarreal has the story.

JUDGE: "Your answer."
STUDENT: "Ten dollars is the price and 800 units of output."
JUDGE: "That is correct. You are the national champions."

A total of 16 students from four high schools across the United States faced off in New York City at the National Economics Challenge finals.

The four teams came from Alabama, California, Hawaii and Indiana. They defeated more than 1,000 teams from 35 U.S. states to make it to the finals.

The competition pitted the teams against each other in two divisions - one for advanced students and one for beginners.

Using a buzzer, competitors raced to answer questions on a variety of topics from personal finance to theory to current events.

ROBERT DUVALL: "Next question. This African country's inflation rate-"
JUDGE: "Vestavia Hills."
STUDENT: "Zimbabwe."
JUDGE: "Zimbabwe is correct."

The non-profit National Council on Economic Education has hosted the challenge for eight years with co-sponsor, the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

The Council bills the Economics Challenge as the only event of its kind for high school students.

Council President Robert Duvall says the goal is to equip students with the skills they need to succeed.

"Financial decision-making skills are not something you and I are born with," he explained. "It is learned behavior, and we are either going to learn it while we are in school from good teachers, including parents as teachers, or we may have to learn it the hard way. So that is essentially what this National Economics Challenge is all about. It is about encouraging young people to learn some basics in economics and finance so that they can have more successful lives."

Duvall says the students who compete in the contest outperform their classmates on advanced economics tests and are more likely to continue in the field.

John Reinhardt helped his Alabama high school finish first in the advanced division. He says learning economics enables teens to be independent.

"I think the biggest problem with today's youth is that they do not make their own decisions," he explained. "They let other people influence them and economics is a really good way for them to learn how to think on their own and how to make their own decisions in everyday life, not just in economic or political forums."

The current economic crisis makes the challenge especially timely, a "teachable moment" as one coach put it.

The other coaches agree. Michelle Foutz taught the winning team from Indiana in the novice division.

"There have been a lot of great examples of things that have gone on recently that we've been able to incorporate into the classroom, and I think it is very important to not just teach the principles you read about in the textbooks, but to provide real, real life examples, because they are going to be more passionate about learning and continuing to take economics coursework if they can see the relevance in it," she noted.

The winners - including the coaches - each received $3,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds. The runners-up each earned $1,500 bonds. All participants took home team trophies, individual medals and, hopefully, the know-how for future financial success.