The winning Montclair High School students with their teachers and European Union Ambassador John Bruton

A group of New Jersey students preparing for a competition about the economic crises within the European Union have come up with ideas on how to solve Ireland’s economic issues. 

A group of high school freshmen and sophomores from Montclair High School worked intently for the past three months to learn about Ireland’s economic turbulence and ways in which it can be solved.

Students Marscall Ratliff, 15, Emily Gurniak, 15, James Macksoud, 15, Jiuliana Freda, 16 and Brendan Dwyer, 16 won first place at this year’s fourth annual Euro Challenge, a competition sponsored by the Delegation of the European Commission.

Dwyer, whose father’s family originates from Cork and Tipperary, spent much time communicating back and forth with his cousin in Ireland about the state of the Irish economy present day.  

“Fox (cousin) gave us a really interesting perspective on what was going on in Ireland,” Dwyer told IrishCentral.

Dwyer said the aim of the presentation was to look at the euro zone overall and come up with a solution on how to fix the economic problems that was facing one of the countries. The students chose Ireland.

“We chose Ireland because we thought it was interesting how vast unemployment was going up so quickly,” said Dwyer. “Unemployed went 5.3% to 11% in one year.”

Dwyer said the group quickly learned that the housing collapse had a lot to do with Ireland’s economic meltdown.

“The housing collapse spread to the banking sector and construction companies couldn’t pay back loans,” he said.

The students, who had their final presentation at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York on Wednesday, April 28, competed against 70 other schools from nine states. They were elated to be even narrowed down to the final 25.

European Union Ambassador John Bruton, a former Irish taoiseach (prime minister), was among the spectators marveling at the skills and knowledge showcased in the competition.

“I congratulate the winning team from Montclair High School for their outstanding performance in this year's Euro Challenge competition,” said Bruton.

“I was very impressed by their extensive knowledge of the European Union and economic issues. In these challenging economic times, it is particularly encouraging to see young people display such tremendous understanding of complex issues.”

Freda explains that winning was very rewarding, “We put a lot of time and effort into this. We worked so hard,” she said.

The students worked for three months solid on their presentation, sometimes meeting seven days a week.

“We did so much research on Ireland and to present it we put together a talk show format,” said Freda proudly.

The group read a lot of Irish articles going back decades for research.

“We needed to get a sense of progression and how the economy evolved over the past 20 years or so in Ireland,” said Freda.

“We had to keep on top of things. As we were going through the process there was a lot of different things happening in Ireland like people protesting, so it was important to stay up to date and current so our ideas and solutions would be perfect.”

Freda shared some of the solutions with the Irish Central.

“Well for start there would need to be a re-directing of the fiscal spending, then an increase in research and development. There would need to be stricter regulations for the banking sector as this is one of the major problems keeping credit markets tight at this time.

“If businesses can’t borrow then they can’t expand and there will be no more new jobs,” she said. 

Dwyer, who visited Ireland when he was seven with his family, said this year was extra special for the team as they were adamant they were going to place first.

“Our school won before and then last year they came second so we really wanted to win this year,” he said.

Calling on any Irish expertise they could get their hands on, the students spent time with a Co. Mayo man, Declan Carney, whose children attend the school.

“We asked Declan to come in and listen to the presentation and he was great. He gave the students the history into the nineties boom period,” said Jack Webber, economics teacher, who along with English teacher Thomas Clifford were instrumental in the students winning the award.

As a reward for placing first in the Euro Challenge, the students will take a trip to Washington, D. C. and visit the Federal Reserve, the European delegation to the U.S. and the International Monetary Funds later this month. 

Gurniak said the project was a good learning experience.

“We really were trying to understand the economic issue not only in Ireland but in all euro zones. It was a great experience to be able to figure out things ourselves and come up with solutions,” she said.

Students Sarah Meredab and Jordan Ellison were freshmen who acted as alternates for the group.

Meredab said that working with the other students helped her prepare for next year when she and Ellison hope to take on the Euro Challenge again.

The fifth place team, George W. Hewlett High School in Hewlett, Long Island, also focused on Ireland for their presentation.