FARMINGTON - Living with your life choices financially is a lesson Farmington High sophomores experienced at the Reality Store exercise on May 8 in the school gym.
The Reality Store, a simulated experience in household money management, teaches students how to prioritize needs and wants when it comes to spending and saving money.
About 580 students learned about planning, setting goals, making decisions and choosing a career. The exercise may have planted seeds in their minds about how important it is to stay in school, away from drugs and avoid unplanned pregnancy.
Some students look visually distressed and filled with anxiety when they traveled from booth to booth to pick out a home, a car and select a child care. They all chose a career and were given salaries based on that choice. They were all 28 years old. Some were married or unwed and some were raising multiple children.
Chrystal Gasner, committee coordinator with Roundbank Insurance, led the effort. It was a partnership with high school teachers, counselors and 50 volunteers who sat at informational booths in the school gym to guide students and answer questions.
Gasner sat down with FHS Principal Jason Berg last year to talk about the partnership. He agreed the exercise would be an excellent hands-on learning experience.
"It is such a great exercise for the kids and I think the kids enjoyed it, as well," Gasner said.
Reality Store curriculum was created by an Indiana women's educational foundation in 1993 and the plan can be purchased to teach any group real-life skills.
Louise Usanase, high school guidance counselor, said the exercise was valuable.
"There are a lot of students come to our offices and that is not the place to tell students 'You cannot go and be a doctor.' We do try to encourage them to do things and follow their passions, but they don't always end up seeing the reality of hey, if I end up doing this, then this is how much I will make, or if I want to do this this is how much school I need to take," Usanase said.
This counselor saw how a lot of the students were coming away being distraught as they realized they were running out of money and they needed to secure a part-time job, Usanase said.
"Overall, this is such a great opportunity," Usanase said, adding that maybe next year more grades can participate in Reality Store.
Robyn Craig, a Farmington City Council member, volunteered to sit at the housing booth since her career was in the mortgage industry.
"All schools should have this because it is life skills, and it is really important to know because it is the trajectory of their whole life," Craig said. She helped to guide students to decide what kind of housing they could afford for their scenario families by looking at actual Farmington homes for sale and apartments to rent. She encouraged students not to spend more than 25 percent on a house payment so avoid becoming house poor and in debt.
"I would rather show them how to be really conservative," Craig said, adding because life happens. "We talked about building equity in their homes and I really wanted them to think about the choices they are making," she added.
For students who planned on becoming doctors and hoping to earn higher salaries, Craig encouraged them to pay off student loans first and learn how to get good at money management.
Chelsy Newman, high school counselor, said each the Reality Store exercise fits in perfectly with the Ramp Up to Readiness program. All students at Farmington High attend weekly Ramp Up classes to learn the five pillars of readiness: college admissions, college and career readiness, financial literacy, academic preparedness; and social and emotional.
At the Reality Store, youth learned how it can be hard to always stay on a budget and plan well for life unexpected events.
"I think my favorite quote of the day was 'I just went bankrupt, what do I do?'" Newman said. She directed that student to the legal booth.
Students learned about the importance of budgeting, delaying gratification and becoming savvy with saving and spending.
"I think there is a nice balance of education where they understand what goes into the family budget - if their family has a budget," Newman said.