Students face life lessons in Reality Town

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The worry of bills, mortgages, groceries, insurance …

It all begins Wednesday for Lincoln County’s ninth-graders.

Every freshman in the county will rotate through three days ofReality Town, a life-skills workshop meant to show students thevery real correlation between the grades they amass in high schooland the earnings they can expect in the professional world beyond.The event is being sponsored by the Junior Auxiliary with help fromMississippi Scholars, and is being held at the Lincoln CountyMulti-Purpose Complex.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“The more we can do to give kids real life skills, the better wecan be,” said Brookhaven School District Superintendent LeaBarrett. “We want our kids to graduate as informed consumers andinformed citizens. The state of the economy has pointed out thatmost Americans need a little lesson in economics, so this is a goodway to start.”

The way the event works is simple: the approximately 500freshmen attending will be given a fixed amount of virtual moneybased on the grade point averages earned during the firstsemester.

With that money they will visit eight local vendors who will”sell” them everything from automobiles, electricity and insurance,and the students will have to decide how much – and what quality -goods and policies to buy to make their money stretch. Unforeseenemergencies like vehicle repair and medical bills will be throwninto the mix as well.

In the end, students who have applied themselves toward makinggood grades may buy a convertible and ride off to a vacation at thebeach, while students who have lollygagged might have to shut offtheir cable TV and hope their beater of an automobile will make itto work without breaking down.

According to the JA’s numbers, the average earnings for a25-year-old single adult in Mississippi who earned As and Bs isaround $25,000 per year. Students with a C average only make around$17,000 annually, and those who dropped out of high school canexpect an inadequate $12,000 per year.

The experience is not something one usually learns inAlgebra.

“It gives them that aspect of having a little money in theirpocket and then the reality of trying to pay bills and see whatthey have left over at the end of the month. Most of them havenever had that experience,” said Brookhaven High School PrincipalDr. Jay Smith.

Smith said more real-life education akin to Reality Town shouldbe taught in public schools. Such classes exist – like BHS’personal finance class – but the courses are elective and not everystudent takes them. Plenty of students can solve variableequations, but how many can balance a checkbook?

At BHS, preparation for Reality Town is already under way. Smithsaid math teachers have been preparing students for the basic butnecessary math skills needed to keep track of a bank account, whileother classes have distributed surveys to gauge the students’expectations heading into the event.

“Kids always have these big aspirations. Now, we’ve got to matchsome finances to those aspirations, and the only way to do that isto have the education and the will and drive to go out and makethat happen for yourself,” he said.

Tonya Stewart, JA’s chairman for Reality Town, said eventorganizers are hoping an impact will be made on freshmen’s lives.Those with bad grades still have three years to pull themselves upand earn higher marks – and more money in the future.

“Hopefully, this will become an annual event,” she said.