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Students undergo Reality Check

Tenth graders in Franklin County got a major reality check last week.

It was all part of an educational program offered by the Extension agency. High school sophomores converged on the Ralph Bishop Center Wednesday to try their hand at making all of life’s necessities – shelter, transportation, food, clothing, insurance and more – fit into a realistic budget. Students were assigned an occupation, corresponding salary and a luck-of-the-draw life situation – single parent, married with a spouse who isn’t working, childless or with multiple children. With what remained of their salary after taxes, students got to choose their house to purchase or apartment to rent, with a variety of sizes and monthly payment levels. They were also offered a choice among several new and used vehicle options.

They also had to budget for their utility and insurance bills, with options on dental insurance, life insurance and disability insurance.

A visit to Super-Mart gave students the choice between name brand or generic brand foods, toiletries and supplies.

The demonstration was organized by local Extension offices. It is offered yearly to Franklin County tenth graders, according to Franklin County Extension coordinator Katernia Cole-Coffey, and each booth – Realville Realty, Reality Automotive, Realville Utilities, Realville Insurance and so forth – was manned by volunteers, who helped students choose an option in their budget and way the pros and cons of their available options.

“I had one person one time who would mess with the kids, and he would do the math wrong intentionally to see if they would catch it,” said extension coordinator Heidi Tilenius. “The idea of this is to get them to think, get them to talk, and get them to understand the link between ‘what I do in school is going to equal what I can do when I get out of school … my earning power is determined by the choices I make.’”

Students from Belgreen, Vina, Tharptown, Red Bay and Phil Campbell participated in the exercise, which also included figuring out the cost of childcare, choosing between designer or discount clothing and analyzing options on checking and savings accounts – with information on monthly service fees – mutual funds and  401K retirement plans.

“It’s a little hard to fit all the stuff I need in my budget,” said Bradley Wilemon, from Red Bay High School – harder than he thought it would be.

“This is great for our young people,” said Tharptown teacher Derek Ergle. “Without a program like this, a lot of times they wouldn’t have a clue until they got out of high school.”

For students whose choices or circumstances landed them with a negative net worth, they had to visit the Realville Jobs booth and take on a second job, like store clerk, pizza delivery or fast food worker.

For the Extension, the lesson to be learned was clear.

“If you earn a paycheck, you have the ability to financially take care of your family, and there’s choices all along the way,” Tilenius said.

As part of the program, students received a packet of information for future planning, including a career checklist, a job options research chart, a vision/goals sheet and an application for Northwest-Shoals Community College.