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JAs give freshmen a dose of ‘Reality’

It didn’t take long for Trevon Wales to figure out the secret to having a better life.

“Start studying and get better grades,” the Enterprise High School freshman said Wednesday as he headed out of the Lincoln Civic Center to board his bus back to school.

And his reward for the right answer? A Payday.

Members Cheli Durr and Brenda Orr of the Junior Auxiliary of Brookhaven passed out candy bars to ninth-graders completing the chapter’s annual Reality World class, which continues today. Students progress through stations set up to represent real-life situations such as purchasing a car, buying or renting a house and paying insurance, phone, internet, cable and utility bills. Students also attend sessions with mentors to learn about unexpected expenses and life decisions they’ll possibly make as adults.

The students were given imaginary monthly salaries from $2,226 to $1,018 — after deductions — based on their grade point average. They visited each of the eight stations and heard options like buying a house or renting an apartment, driving either a fancy SUV or a small sedan and trading up for the latest cell phone with all the bells and whistles. Then they made their choices, wrote a “check” and made the necessary deductions from their bank register.

At the end of the lesson, they walked out with either a Payday if they had money in the bank or a Zero if they were broke.

Sen. Sally Doty, a JA life member, gave students a talk about life lessons that is usually attended by some of the adults as well.

She paraphrased advice that she’s heard Gov. Phil Bryant share with other young people.

“There are three things you have to do to succeed,” she said.

She told them to graduate high school and do something else — whether it’s workforce training, college or military — and stay away from drugs.

“Drugs cannot be a part of your life,” she said.

Doty said those with a drug or alcohol addiction tend to have a slew of other problems like failing drug tests at jobs, turmoil within their families and run-ins with law enforcement officers.

She also talked about responsibilities of unplanned pregnancies for both the mother and the father.

“Don’t have a baby until you get married,” she said.

The job of taking care of the child usually rests on the mother, but fathers who don’t live in their child’s home are still financially responsible for the child, she said. In Mississippi, that’s 14 percent of your income for one child and 28 percent for two, she said.

“That’s every month until that baby is 21,” Doty said. “That’s a nice car note.”

As the students left Doty’s station, the state senator gave each person a yellow slip of paper with a “surprise” for their bank accounts. Depending on the surprise, they could either add or subtract money. One student’s slip said “Bonus at work, add $100,” while others got slips like “Buy parents an anniversary gift, pay $30” or “New puppy chews up your work shoes — must replace them. Pay $30.”

JA member Katie Furr said Doty’s talk really opens their eyes.

“The kids really respond to that,” she said. “She gives them a little dose of reality.”

The JAs stop in throughout the morning to hear Doty’s life lessons.

“We all like to listen to what she tells them,” Furr said.

The JAs’ hope is to encourage students at this point in their academic career to set goals for success during both high school and post-graduation. They reach out to ninth-graders because they’re at the beginning of the high school road.

“They’ve still got time to change things,” she said. “The better your grades, the higher your chances of getting a scholarship and getting a better job.”

Freshmen hear from their elders about making good grades and thinking about the future, but when they go through Reality World, it gives them a better understanding about why it’s important, Furr said.

Cameron Smith of Betsy Smith Properties has spoken to students each year since the program started in 2010. The JAs took on the project after Kenny Goza with Mississippi Scholars Program approached them with the idea. He tells them about the cost of renting versus buying and watching them get to work on their JA-issued calculators to figure out what they can afford.

“I see it as a jaw-dropping experience for them because they just don’t know how much their parents are spending,” Smith said.

Wales has a plan.

“Start off renting, then you make more money and you can buy a house,” he said.

Funding for the program comes from the annual JA Peel ’Em & Eat ’Em shrimp dinner, which will be Oct. 18 from 3-7 p.m. at the Lincoln Civic Center and tickets — $15 each — are on sale now from JA members. There’s also a ticket hotline number: 601-754-3507. Plates may be available on the day of the sale, but the JAs make no guarantees.