Students get crash course in adult life through Reality World program

Published 8:00 pm Friday, February 15, 2013

Lincoln County and Brookhaven students got a crash course in reality this week.

The – to some – shocking immersion came courtesy of “Reality World,” an annual program hosted by the Junior Auxiliary and Mississippi Scholars.

The event takes high school freshmen from Lincoln County and Brookhaven schools through a series of tables prompting them to make the kind of real world spending decisions they will be faced with some day, sooner or later: rent or buy a home? Go cheaper on a car to edge some breathing room on the budget? Name brand groceries?

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Students are given a check book, a calculator and allocated a fictional bank balance based on their grades.

They then meet real representatives of local businesses. They have to buy groceries from several packages available (mixing name and generic brands in various combinations), choose a car, select a home, pay utilities and get insurance.

“We hope you learn why it is important to study hard and get good grades,” said local chamber of commerce program director Kay Burton to participating students.

The three-day event began Tuesday and wrapped up Thursday with Brookhaven High School students landing in “Reality World.”

BHS freshman Makala Longino was pretty satisfied with the way she turned out. By the end of the event, she still had $366 remaining in her account.

“I know how to manage my money,” she said.

Longino credited her mother’s example for instilling good financial sense.

Other students apparently are not so financially savvy.

Students break up into rotating groups, so while some groups will come to local realtor Betsy Smith’s table to buy or rent a house first, others will come to her table last.

Students in the later groups often have little or no money left with which to buy or rent a home. Even worse, some are already running a deficit.

“It’s a shock to some of them,” Smith said.

One of the biggest mistakes she’s noted, is that most students spend too much on a car given what their budgets will allow.

Smith jokingly tells those students that with no money left for a home, the car will have to pull double-duty.

“That’s your house you’re driving around in,” she says.

Smith has been a participant in Reality World every year since its inception, and she thinks the program is valuable for the students.

“You hope some of them learn something,” she said.

Reality World was a new experience this year for David Martin, wrapping up his first year as BHS principal.

“It’s a good experience for them,” Martin said. “Get some real world knowledge.”

Martin said he listened in a little bit to students climbing back on to the bus, and their chatter was positive.

“The kids seem to be enjoying it,” he said.

They may also have learned something: Martin said he heard a number of students despondently discussing the negative bank balance with which they ended.