By the time teens graduate high school, they have already had to make tough decisions that affect their futures – decisions like their educational and career paths, married or single life, whether or not to have a family and at what age. To help them learn the importance of the decisions that they are making and how they affect the rest of their lives, Montgomery Cooperative Extension Agents were asked by Communities in Schools to partner on a Reality Store event for all high school seniors.
The event was held on Tuesday, May 2nd at Montgomery Community College. Upon arrival, all participants were assigned the following: an attained educational level, corresponding career, monthly net salary, marital status and family status. Based on their assigned situations, each participant had to visit the following stations: housing, utilities, grocery, department stores, child care (if needed), financial institutions, medical facilities/pharmacies, insurance agencies, auto dealers and entertainment. There was also a “Life Chances” station where participants drew a card that could either ease financial burdens like a work bonus or winning a few hundred dollars with a lottery ticket, BUT they could draw a financial hardship card like unexpected auto expenses or being cut from fulltime to part-time status at work. They were urged to set priorities before going to the stations. Volunteers at each booth helped students determine how much of their disposable income should be spent or budgeted toward each category. If they ran out of money, the participant had to get another job before seeking government assistance.
During a facilitated discussion at the end of the session, participants indicated how much they learned about the correlation between higher educations, better paying jobs and more comfortable living arrangements. A large portion of the discussion focused on how expensive children/child care was as well as how important it is to find a job that provides healthcare and retirement benefits. All 280 participants agreed that this exercise made them seriously rethink their future goals and plans.