Faces of the Valley: Plum 4th grader excels at investment challenge, writing poetry

Whether it’s crisp cash or fresh grass covered in morning dew, 10-year-old Jett Bittner knows green.

The fourth grader at Plum’s O’Block Elementary School recently placed first in Allegheny County and 10th statewide in the elementary division of a stock market game. Then, he was among several of his classmates whose poems were chosen for publication in a poetry book.

In the investment challenge sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council on Financial Literacy, working with an imaginary $100,000, Jett was up $4,000 to $5,000 near the end of the 10-week game. But as it closed, he ended with a slight loss at $99,369, council spokesman Eric Attinger said.

Jett’s poem, which was entered into the contest run by Creative Communication, was about the color green. In addition to grass, his poem teases the senses with imagery such as cactuses standing in the desert, the smell of a pepper waiting to be eaten, the taste of a watermelon bursting with juice and the sound “of leaves getting tickled by the wind.”

But while Jett says he wants to make his living as an artist, he’s not mixing the worlds of finance and art just yet.

“I didn’t put any money whatsoever in my poem,” Jett said.

Jett is the son of Michelle and Michael Bittner. He has a younger sister, Marlo, who is 8 and in third grade.

“I’m incredibly proud of him. He always blows me away,” Michelle Bittner said. “He’s always so humble and nice and thinking of others. It’s awesome to see him succeed in things.”

The investment challenge is a real-life simulation with real-time stocks at real-time prices, said Carolyn Shirk, vice president of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Council on Financial Literacy.

“It’s critical for this generation of students to learn to save and invest. They can’t rely on Social Security,” she said. “We believe strongly that we want self-sufficiency and we want to help students achieve that as adults.”

Out of 4,841 students in the competition statewide, only 132 were in the elementary division, Attinger said. The contest ran from Oct. 9 to Dec. 15.

Jett worked under the leadership of Brian Stevens, O’Block’s librarian and gifted coordinator. That Jett was first in the county was a surprise — and that he was 10th in the state was exciting, Stevens said.

At the elementary level, Stevens said, students usually pick the popular companies they know. Jett bought shares of Home Depot, Apple, Amazon and Target that all did well, with Apple being the best performer.

Buying shares of CVS wasn’t such a good idea, Jett said.

Ending at 10th in the state was a shock for Jett.

“It was just like amazing when Dr. Stevens told me I was 1oth in the state. I was like, ‘What?’ ” he said. “A week or two later, he tells me I was first in Allegheny County. I never expected to get this far.”

Jett is going to do the challenge again, looking to do better.

“I had no idea what any of this was,” he said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience.”

Jett’s language and writing teacher, Peggy Mankovich, entered her students’ poems in the Creative Communication contest.

Jett’s poem will be included in the organization’s fall 2023 poetry anthology that comes out in June, spokeswoman Kelsey Payne said. Only just over half of the thousands of entries nationwide are published.

The top 10 winners from the fall contest will be announced at the end of March. Jett’s poem will be in contention in the fourth through sixth grade range. Top 10 winners get special recognition in the book, a $25 award and a free copy of the book with their poem.

Jett is one of those rare students who does well in writing and math, Mankovich said.

“He really puts a lot of thought into what he writes,” she said. “He’s a very creative writer,” she said.

Jett did an excellent job with his poem, bringing the color green alive, she said.

“It was very descriptive, and it really allows the reader to imagine what was going on and gives life to the color green,” she said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a TribLive reporter covering news in New Kensington, Arnold and Plum. A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Penn State University’s Schreyer Honors College, Brian has been with the Trib since December 2000. He can be reached at

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