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A dose of reality
Middle schoolers get a taste of the real world
reality u main
Great Bend Middle School students gather around a booth and learn what it costs to have children during United Way of Central Kansas’ Reality U at GBMS Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Eighth graders at Great Bend Middle School got a reality check Wednesday, courtesy United Way of Central Kansas’ Reality U. 

One could tell listening to their responses as they were debriefed after their experience.

“Children are complicated.”

“How did my parents have enough money to take care of six children?”

“Don’t spend your money on stupid stuff.”

Good advice, if not true understatements.

This marks the fourth year the UWCK has brought this one-day course in life lessons to GBMC students. Over the course of the day, groups of middle schoolers took turns taking part.

“With the support of numerous sponsors and the Great Bend Middle School Booster Club, we are setting out to teach this year’s eight graders about personal finance in a fun and engaging way,” said UWCK Executive Director Gaila Demel. “These lucky youngsters imagine their life as a 26-year old and complete an on line lifestyle survey which includes questions about their occupation, marital status, use of credit cards, and their current grade point average.”

This information is entered into a software program that links their answers to a unique scenario that is individualized for each student, she said. These scenarios are distributed to them the day of the event.

Each story line includes the student’s monthly income, credit card debt, student loan information, as well as marital and family status. The students transfer this information into their student passport (similar to a checkbook register) and then make purchases at the 12 booths that represent services and/or products that adults typically must purchase or consider each month. 

These s include purchasing a car, renting or buying a home, utilities, insurance, phone, entertainment, retirement and loan repayment, childcare, clothing and groceries. “These are all the necessities in life needed to run a household,” Demel said.

“Students have the opportunity to learn how their decisions impact their bottom line as they try to make decisions that won’t result in their check register falling below zero,” she said. Sometimes they must return a “purchase” and make a different decision.

“This event actively engages the students to help them understand the importance of education to their financial future,” Demel said. “It also engages the community in supporting student learning and developing their understanding of the world of work.”

Throughout the day, students also go into breakout sessions to dive deeper into how the choices they make now will impact their future. These sessions include; The Reality After High School, The Reality of High School, The Cost of Delinquency, Making a Plan and Personal Finance. 

“This event would not be possible without the support of our sponsors,” she said. These include Adams, Brown, Beran and Ball, Benefit Management LLC., City of Great Bend, Credit Union of America, Farmers Bank and Trust, First Kansas Bank, Marmie Auto Group, MPIRE Realty, Nex-Tech, Nex-Tech Wireless, Spectrum CPA, University of Kansas Health Systems-Great Bend and Wheatland Electric. 

“Numerous individuals and organizations also assist with this program by speaking throughout the day to the students in the breakout sessions,” she said. And the Great Bend Middle School Booster Club provided lunch for all the volunteers.