Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to photograph a simulated activity at Helper Junior High called Reality Town.
The feature story by Les Bowen appeared Feb. 17 in the Sun Advocate, but the lessons that these eighth and ninth graders learned will hopefully stay with them for years to come.
The project was coordinated by Carbon high School's Future Business Leaders of America club under the guidance of Terri Tubbs. I was out of town last week but thought several times about the activity and how it relates so closely to real life.
Having raised a couple sons through high school and college I get to see first hand the trials and tribulations of a 20-year-old as they face the real world. Of all the lessons that students are part of during junior and senior high I believe this kind of reality teaching is very valuable. The history lessons, the mathematics formulas and reading and literature exposure are all important. But if a young person isn't able to write a check, understand the value of a good job, how and when to purchase a home or vehicle or even the cost of raising a family then what good is their education.
In Reality Town, the student's income or job was dependent on their GPA, which means that if they have a 4.0 they could expect the income of a doctor or business owner, etc, however if they found themselves barely passing they could expect a career in the fast food industry or a minimum salary position. In the classes that led up to the activity kids were able to look at the differences between going to college, working as a laborer or whether or not a trade school was a better option for their lives.
Each student was also given a profile about the type of family they would be part of. Although that portion was not as realistic it did show the students that not all partners wanted to work or was willing to pitch in and make a go of it. I overheard one young man saying that he got stuck with a wife that was lazy and wouldn't work so he had to find a second job to support her and their two children.
Students were given checking accounts and monthly incomes, based on jobs. They had to work through various stations learning how to wisely (or in some cases not-so-wise) spend their money. Just like life, the junior high students had to pay for child care, dress for work and decide how to purchase cable television, telephone or Internet connections. They were faced with larger purchases such as the type of home or vehicle they could afford. Would it be a mansion or a matchbox? The fellow with the second job had to get rid of his larger home and find a small apartment. He wanted to buy a nice new truck but was stuck with a used car with lower payments.
The list of decisions was endless, just like life. They had to plan their donations, contributions, entertainment, groceries, home improvement and insurance. They had medical expenses and utilities and property taxes.
They had their calculate their debts to income ratios and decide if the debt was too much to begin cutting expenses. Some found that they had to cut out movies, disconnect their cable and only eat out once a month instead of three times a week.
How many of us were taught these lessons in our early teen years? If nothing else these kinds of exercises give our children opportunities to realize that growing up is not as easy as they think. Maybe they will think twice before they decide to drop out of school, marry young and have children before they have a career or a degree. These are all important decisions and often young people's futures are determined by decisions they make early in life.
I applaud the school district for organizing the Reality Town and as the concept spreads to other schools I hope the students attending begin to see how their futures all start with attitudes and decisions they are making today.