Future investment: Elementary student writes her way to success

Madeline Saia’s writing recently set a precedent: As an elementary school 11-year-old, she’s the first Montgomery County student to place nationally in a certain essay contest.

And the subject was not about what she’s doing over summer vacation. The topic was a bit heavier – finance and investing.

Saia, a Falling Branch Elementary School fifth grader of Christiansburg, said she was at a science summer camp when she said her teacher surprised her with the news she’d won fourth in the national investment essay competition.

She, her family and her teacher, Brenda Mash, were recognized in a balloon-filled ceremony, receiving large checks and the acknowledgement of the Virginia Council of Economic Education in early June.

The InvestWrite essay competition is a follow-up to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s Stock Market Game. The game gives students a hypothetical $100,000 to invest and create their own portfolios with real-time market data. Students are then invited to write an essay using what they learned in the game to submit for the competition. Mash encouraged her students to try it, and Madeline says many kids were interested, but only two others from her class submitted essays.

This year’s essay prompt asked students to summarize what they learned in the Stock Market Game and how it can help their and others’ futures. Then it asked what stocks, bonds and mutual funds students would invest in with $100,000 – and why.

Saia said she had to do her own research outside of the classroom to fully understand the topic.

As the deadline approached, she said she started to “panic a little bit,” according to her mother, Kristen.

The young student, however, proved she knows a few things. The essay wowed the panel, in part due to her storytelling ability and wit. It opens with a narrative about beating the market with toilet paper stocks, a stock she picked because she said she “wanted to think about something relatable.”

In any writing assignment, she said she likes to add “at least one thing to make someone laugh,” because when she’s funny, “that makes it interesting,” she said. She also included a clever analogy comparing stock industries to eggs in a basket to explain diversification. To close off, she wrote, “As crazy as it sounds, we can all learn something from toilet paper!”

Her engaging writing and solid understanding of the market netted her first in the state and fourth in the nation for her age group, beating out thousands of other students.

A student from Blacksburg Middle School also won first in the state for her age group in 2021, but Madeline, 11, is the first elementary school student and first to place nationally in the school system.

Madeline said now that she’s played the Stock Market Game and written her essay, she wants to try investing in stocks.

As she said in the essay, “BUT (and there’s always a but),” this wasn’t the first time Saia placed highly in an essay competition. She also won first out of all girls at Falling Branch Elementary for a D.A.R.E essay contest, where she wrote a harrowing narrative about a student facing bullying, peer pressure, and friends smoking. In third grade, her poetry was selected in a national contest to go in a book of elementary school student writing.

And she’s not done. Madeline said she’s still looking for one that won’t ask her to write an entire novel, but definitely wants to enter another competition. As to why, she said, “I like when I win them, but also when you’re writing something and it just sounds so good and so perfect — that’s a good feeling.”


She likes writing in her free time, as well. She’s written poems and started some stories, but doesn’t usually finish the “big” ones unless they’re for school. She said she occasionally writes pieces of stories.

She says language arts isn’t her favorite subject. The prompts can be restricting, and besides, she said she is much more interested in science.

She said she wants to become an environmental engineer to protect the ocean.

But maybe one day she said she could write a book on it.

“I think it would be a good book,” she said.