The young investor on the left is then fifth-grade Brett Oslon, who began his investment career by purchasing shares of Carter Hawley Hale stock in his elementary school’s Stock Market Game which, like First Generation Investors, taught young people the fundamentals of investing. Today, Brett is not only an investor but also a beloved AP U.S. History and Financial Literacy teacher at Philadelphia’s Motivation High School and, of course, an ardent champion of FGI. We sat down with a characteristically enthusiastic and passionate Brett Oslon to learn more about his childhood adventures in investing, the necessity of inviting students to FGI without taking into account their grades, how his students bring knowledge from FGI into the high-school classroom, and why he considers First Generation Investors the “preeminent stock education program” in the U.S.
Describe the first time you made an investment.
When I was a precocious fifth grader, one of my teachers introduced the class to the Stock Market Game. I would run home after purchasing stocks and immediately put on a cable channel that featured scrolling stock prices, measured in eighths. You had to sit through all the other stocks and ask, “Why is this stock going up? I don’t even know what this company is,” and you’d come to the program the next week and say, “I want to invest in this stock,” and the teacher would say, “Well what is it?” and you’d say, “I don’t know, but it looks like it’s going up.” As a fifth grader, you have no idea about what’s going on in the stock market, and our teacher made us read a little bit deeper. It was a fantastic program [that] I believe was national. And some person probably had to manually input all [the stock information]… It was all handwritten because it was before computerized anything. You had to calculate your price. Very old school, very trading places-type environment. It was awesome.
Tell us about the stock in which you invested.
My particular group invested in Carter Hawley Hale stock. This was the 80s, in the time of “opulence of everything” and the height of Macy's and Bamberger's and Kaufmann’s, all these “we know how to satisfy all customers all of the time” department stores. John Wanamaker’s [owned by Carter Hawley Hale] actually was the flagship store in Philadelphia, and today it’s Macy's at 11th and Market. [Back then], it formally had nine floors, [all] for a department store. It had a restaurant on the fifth floor, a tea room on the ninth floor, where the ladies of the day would go...if they needed a break from carrying all their [purchases], they’d go up, get a spot of tea, and keep right on shopping afterward. My dad was the night store manager at Wanamaker’s, in addition to being a teacher, so wanting to connect with my dad, I said, “Let’s pick this stock out” and being that it was the 80s, it did pretty well despite being built on sand as an organization. It was one of those stocks that kept going up, but in reality, it should have never gone up like that. Ultimately, by the end of the 80s, the company collapsed, Wanamaker’s was sold...and poof, gone!... The whole idea of the department store is just a dinosaur to the current generation... The John Wanamaker’s was [actually] the first department store inside the United States. It was started by an immigrant who came to Philadelphia and peddled his wares. The John Wanamaker store was the birth of the megastore store in the country.
How did your school’s Stock Market Game program compare to First Generation Investors?
[The Stock Market Game] was affiliated with the school, and those of us that were deemed “mentally gifted,” whatever that meant, were in this class and got opportunities that, frankly, everybody should have gotten. It was like, “Hey, you’re the really smart ones, we’ll give you extra.” There would have been other people who would have been just as good at doing it, and that’s the beauty of FGI. I said to [the FGI Executive Team], “I’m not gonna give you just straight A students. I’m gonna give you who seems to be the most interested in it and who I think can benefit from it.” The wonderful thing about FGI is that it can’t tell the difference between who’s the A student and who struggles in [some] classes. It’s really neat to see because they treat every student so fantastically. They [both] teach up and [work with] those that need help. The expectations are, “Hey, you’re gonna get this, and you’re gonna be an investor, and you’re gonna network.” [When choosing students, I look for those who] show dedication to the program. [I’m] like, “I don’t care what grades you have, but I have to...know that you’re gonna give your best effort, and knowing that FGI is giving time, resources, [and] money, I’ve gotta feel really good about it.” The kids have just run with it.
How did you get involved with FGI?
Sometimes it is way better to be lucky than good. On a Friday afternoon in October, I was the last person in the school. Blake Kernen [FGI Director of Corporate Strategy] called and asked to speak to the Personal Finance teacher. By pure chance, I was working in the office and happened to answer the phone. After hearing Ms. Kernen's pitch, I immediately requested a meeting and had two seniors take part as well. By the end of the meeting, I knew FGI would be the preeminent stock education program throughout the United States.
From your perspective, what draws students to the program?
It’s a game-changing program. [This is] my 21st year as a teacher, and Dylan and I...talk about the state of education all the time. Kids need to feel included, and they need to have some skin in the game... Everyone thinks it’s the money that draws kids to FGI, like “you get money to invest in the stock market,” and that’s true, but...that’s the last question that [the kids are talking about] by the time they’re done with the FGI program. [They’re] talking about the relationships that they build with the tutors [and] the board, and it’s fantastic. It’s just enough gas to prime the engine, and then the engine is running for the next eighty years.
[In addition], the kids in FGI are throwing [FGI] out there...like they hit a game-winning shot. [They say], “Yeah, that’s my organization” [and] “I learned this, I learned that.” I’m telling you, there is a waiting list for young people to get into FGI, [which is impressive], considering that it’s Saturdays [and] a little bit outside the comfort zone.
What is your favorite memory of working with FGI?
During these COVID times that we’re living in, the lines are blurred between the classroom and parents just popping in, and I always joke that everybody’s welcome. I love interacting with people, so it doesn’t matter to me who pops into the classroom, and toward the end of one lesson during an FGI Google Meet, a parent said, “Can I come in?” I had spoken to this particular parent a couple times before, so I knew the parent, and I said, “Yeah what’s going on? Do you have any particular thoughts?” She said, “Only one: I’m busy scribbling stuff down that your students are saying as quickly as possible...so I can learn,” and [she] asked for permission to take notes on the students’ discussion.
What have you found most rewarding about your time with the nonprofit?
As a teacher, I enjoy hearing about interactions [that take place during FGI] from the perspectives of my students. They quote FGI students and volunteers vociferously in all of their classes, and not only my Personal Finance course. And the questions I get are phenomenal. Even during the summer, I was getting stock information from students who are from the FGI program, who were like, “Oslon, did you see [what’s happening with stocks]?” and I was like, “No, I haven’t checked my phone in two hours,” and they would quickly send a text with an article attached to it. It’s phenomenal. The seed has been planted. [Also], the principal is floored... My peers [have] asked me about the program and expressed a great deal of excitement about the sound reasoning that students exhibit in arguments and case studies as they discuss finance and investing. This momentum continues daily as students share articles about stocks, ask for clarification regarding new stories, and gain insight into today's constantly changing marketplaces.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add about First Generation Investors?
Everybody’s doing their part…[they’re] the best and brightest in the country. You have young people of all socioeconomic backgrounds [and] political bends. The fantastic nature of FGI is [that] it’s apolitical. I try to tell people that, and they of course don’t believe me, and I’m like, “Well, liberals love it because you’re reaching into the inner-city and giving people the opportunity. Conservatives love it because it’s not a handout, it’s a ‘Hey, I’m gonna teach you how to do this, and we’re gonna put money in your hands, [and] you’re gonna be responsible from this point forward.’” So, to me, it’s like, you win from the left and the right simultaneously, and there’s not too many organizations that can really lay claim to [that]... [FGI is] an apolitical organization that way. It’s what is in the best interest of the kids, and that’s why it’s successful.