Middle school students get a dose of reality

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By Jimmie Earls

If you’ve been out of school for a while, then you know that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. It takes some adjustment to learn how to handle monthly bills and expenses. But some Washington County middle school students recently got a preview of what to expect once they enter the workforce by participating in a “reality store” at North Washington Elementary School on Friday.

“We invited eighth-graders from all over the county to participate in this,” said Jill Settles, community education coordinator for the Washington County School District. “Each student picks a career, and we encourage them to pick something that is suited to their ILP (Individual Learning Plan) to give them a sense of direction. The students are then given a monthly wage according to their job, and they must budget their money and make a purchase from each service provided.”

The reality store was started several years ago by Sherry Sims, a teacher at NWES.

“She has always been the coordinator, and she wasn’t able to do it this year, but we felt this was important enough to continue,” Settles added.

Several members of the community volunteered to represent various living expenses that the students had to take into account when planning their purchases, everything from taxes to beauty care. It didn’t take long before the students realized how quickly their money was spent.

“The first stop is Uncle Sam,” Settles said. “That’s the way life is – the government take out taxes before you get your check.”

Along the way, the students visited booths representing banks, housing, cars, insurance, utilities, entertainment, clothing, communications, child care and health and beauty.

One popular booth was the one where Dana Kelty served as an “S.O.S.”, where the students could receive advice about how to manage their money better by rethinking their purchases and their needs.

“The S.O.S. gives them advice about how to come out in the black,” added Settles. “There is also a “Chance” booth, which could be to the students’ advantage or disadvantage. They may draw something like a car wreck and they need to make repairs, or their grandmother gave them $100 for their birthday.”

St. Dominic eighth-grader Dallas Fenwick chose to be a doctor. He wanted to buy a three-bedroom house, but had to down-size to a two-bedroom when funds started running low.

“The house was pretty expensive and the car was, too,” he said. “I wanted to get a sports car but I had to get something cheaper.”

Other students were surprised at how expensive it is to raise children.

“Kids are expensive,” said St. Dominic eighth-grader Olivia Goatley, who decided to be a pediatrician. “It was a good experience. I had to go buy a cheaper house, and when I bought groceries, I went with the cheapest brands.”

Goatley said she thought it was more expensive for women to shop.

“I had to use beauty supplies, plus I had two girls, and that brought up my costs a lot. We didn’t go on vacation, we had a pizza party,” she laughed.

Goatley and Fenwick both agreed that the reality store helped them better understand what it is like in the real world.

“You need to start little and go bigger when you can,” added Goatley.

Settles added, “We feel like this is a very good program, and it helps teach the kids to start thinking about financial management and helps them understand the basics of living when they get out on their own.”