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Middle school students get a dose of Reality

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Event teaches students real-life lessons

By Cathy Toole

Last Thursday more than 350 students from Eminence Independent Schools and Henry County Public Schools participated in the Reality Store. This event allows students the opportunity to see how difficult it can be to make ends meet financially, month to month.

The event begins with students envisioning what their lives will be like when they are 25. They fill out a pamphlet on what level of education they would like to have at that age, the job they would like to have, what type of car they would like to own, and what type of housing they would prefer. They also decide if they would like to have children at that age, and the age of the children.

After filling out the pamphlet, they are then given their current grade point averages for the past nine weeks. Based on that, students are given the task of choosing a career from on a long list of options. The catch is that to have a job that requires a college degree, students must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. To receive a job requiring a technical degree, they must have a GPA of 2.00-2.99. To receive high school diploma students must have a GPA of 1.00-1.99. If a student has below a 1.00 then they will not receive a diploma. Students were encouraged to choose a career that they could see themselves interested in pursuing to make the event as realistic as possible.  

Students noticed that as their level of education decreased, the list of job opportunities also declined in number and in salaries. Once students chose their career they were asked to draw slips of paper to see if they would have to support any children for the event. The maximum number they could receive was three. The students were challenged to purchase what they needed at the Reality Store for the month and to break even financially, without going into debt.

The day of the Reality Store, students first go see Uncle Sam and have taxes taken out of their monthly income. Next stop is to the bank to open an account so that they can use the check register as their balance for the rest of the booths. This year students that had college degrees as well as more advanced degrees were given student loan payments when they reached the banking booth.

Thanks to more than 40 volunteers, students were able to walk around the Henry County Middle School gym and make choices on such items as housing, transportation, clothing and communications. When students started running into financial trouble they could go to the SOS Booth to seek financial advice or go get a second job at Supplemental Income. Many students visited both booths.

As in the past years, groans could be heard over the cost of children. Over and over again students complained about how much they paid in childcare, insurance, clothes and groceries because of kids. Students that did not have children were often able to put money in savings and afford a more expensive entertainment and communications package. As usual, the students requested there to be an adoption booth, so that students could drop their kids off at the booth for someone else to take care of.

There were a lot of nice cars that had to be repossessed for much older models so that students could make ends meet, as well as designer clothes given up to less expensive choices.  The one item that students refused to be without was a cell phone. They would give up whatever it took to keep their phones.

I want to thank all of the volunteers who gave of their time to make this event possible as well as all of the educators who helped throughout the day. I would also like to compliment the students on how well-behaved and courteous hey were throughout the day.