What does selling debt mean? What are investments by public bodies in foreign financial instruments called? What does marginal product of labor mean?

Teams of economics students from around the state spent Monday at the Great Northern in Helena answering these and other questions as part of the nation’s only economics challenge. Twenty-one teams from 10 schools, including the first-ever American Indian team from Frazer High, competed in the 16th annual event, which had a record number of teams participating.

“The challenge is very exciting to watch,” said Bonnie Jackson, past executive director for the Montana Council on Economic Education. “It forces students to solve difficult problems based on real-life issues. I am awed by the brilliance of these students.”

Three teams were from White Sulphur Springs. Cy Williams was the captain of the team of all juniors called “Nothing 2 Lose.” It was the second year the team traveled to Helena for the challenge, which provided a special opportunity they don’t get because their school offers no economics classes.

“It would be nice to have the class (in school), or even a portion of our business class focused on economics,” junior Molly Hedrich said.

Nonetheless, the students gave it their best shot, but by mid-morning ranked low compared to other schools. They didn’t seem to mind, though, and cared more about beating the two other teams from their hometown.

“It’s more about the experience anyway,” Williams said.

Their teacher, Julie Hanson, said the challenge was great exposure for her students.

“Hopefully some of it sinks in, in a short amount of time,” she said.

Individual states host challenges, and the winning team — Park High from Livingston — moves on to the regional final to compete for U.S. Savings Bonds and an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Economics Challenge in New York City. Park High placed second last year and came back this year to defeat the team from Glasgow High School.

John Feckanin coaches the Park High team. In Livingston, he teaches economics and history and says the challenge is a good opportunity to test the students’ knowledge in micro- and macroeconomics, as well as international trade and current events.

The event in Helena was sponsored by the MCEE and the Helena branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. It was created to promote student interest in economics, reinforce classroom instruction, advance academics and school spirit.

MCEE Director Connie Genger said the event helps educate the next generation of Montana consumers.

“I hope students leave here with a renewed awareness of the significance of economics, but especially that there are kids from other schools who are knowledgeable in this subject,” she said.

Genger said students are naturally competitive and this provides that opportunity in a fun and engaging setting with their peers.

Diana Holshue with the Federal Reserve Bank said one of the bank’s roles is to teach young people about economics so they are better able to contribute to the economy, from their personal finances to their global perspectives.

Crystal Elenbaas, a senior at Helena Christian School, was the first-place winner for the individuals followed by Travis Pattengale in second and Rachel Noble in third, both from Park High.

Kacey Askin, Elenbaas’ economics teacher, says he’s not surprised that she took first place. “She is a very accomplished student,” he said.

While Elenbaas may appear to be the economics master, she admits that the subject is not her strong point. She participated in the competition last year, and to prepare this year she went over old quizzes with Askin and her father.

“I had to guess on quite a few,” she admitted.

Elenbaas plans to attend Dordt College in Iowa and study chemistry with the intent of becoming a pharmacist, because she enjoys science and research more than economics.

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or alana.listoe@helenair.com

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