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Reality U
8th graders experience 'real life'
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Eighth graders talk about what kind of vehicle they can afford based on their incomes, during Reality U, an exercise in negotiating life after high school. Community volunteers such as Linda Marmie, at right, helped with the exercise Wednesday at Great Bend Middle School. - photo by photos by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Great Bend Middle School’s eighth graders had some tough choices to make Wednesday.
They could live large, with newer cars and expensive phones, but they also had to pay rent, utilities and insurance, buy groceries and maybe find suitable day-care for their children.

These eighth graders had a glimpse of their future lives at age 26 by participating in a simulation known as Reality U.
This was the second year for GBMS to offer Reality U with the help of United Way of Central Kansas.

“Reality U is an interactive exercise that helps youth understand some of the ‘realities’ involved in preparing for an employable future,” sponsors said. “At Reality U, students select an occupation based on educational plans after high school and current grade-point average. They are then given a budget equivalent to the average monthly salary at the age of 26.”

UWCK put together a team of 50 volunteers to plan and organize this project in the school gymnasium. When students headed to the Entertainment table to sign up for Netflix, the person who helped them add the expense to their budgets was Nicole Koelsch, a real-life certified public accountant. And when they stopped at the Transportation table to choose between a scooter, a 2009 Honda Civic or a more expensive vehicle, they were met by Steve Wittig and Linda Marmie of Marmie Motors — a business where they may actually buy a car in the years ahead.

Wittig said the Reality U experience mirrored real life.
“We tell them what they can afford,” he said. The students learn their credit score and how much the monthly payment will be, but they’re free to borrow as much as the bank will lend them. Only after securing a ride do they learn how much their insurance will cost.

GBMS Counselor Sheryl Neeland was one of the Reality U coordinators. She explained that the students had to visit each station in the simulation, including one labeled Chance. There, with the roll of a die, even a student who was living within her means might be hit with an unexpected plumbing bill or medical emergency.

At the end of the exercise, students compared notes.
“How much money have you got?”
Brady Feist answered with confidence, “We’re going to be millionaires!”
Neeland asked the students what they had learned, and quickly received several answers.
“Think ahead and put money in for your retirement,” Feist said.
“Don’t marry someone who’s going to break your heart and leave you with a kid,” Evan Wedel said.

The exercise was fun, but the students had some moments of realization as well.
“Adults don’t have it easy.”
“You can’t get everything you want.”
“I’m going broke,” one boy said. Another said he had less money left than expected.
“Do you think there’s anything you can do to change that?” Neeland asked. “How could you improve your future?”
There were some good and bad decisions made Wednesday. Students who had Reality U “children” to raise didn’t always choose a safe, enriching day-care for their kids, but depended on family members instead.
“Those other people have to work, too,” Neeland reminded the students.
And for the student who planned to ride a scooter to save money on transportation, she asked, “What will you do when it snows?” and “How will you get your kids to school?”

More reality
From the Reality U gym, students went into breakout sessions to hear in more detail how their choices now will impact their future.
Speakers included Great Bend High School counselors talking to them about class choices in high school; Barton Community College counselors talking about scholarships, loans, ACT and SAT scores, and the requirements to get into college; Casey Rowland of Immediate Intervention Programs and a Great Bend Police Officer talked about the cost of delinquency; and Barry Bowers of Spectrum CPA and Brian Staats of Adams, Brown, Beran & Ball talked to the students about banking, loans, credit scores, and investing in their future.

There were also GBHS students to answer questions about what high school is really like, and young professionals talked about life is really like at age 26.

Lessons learned
Students had a chance to learn how good decisions now lead to more and better options later in life. Neeland said a few of them told her they learned a little about how much their parents invest in them. Some even told her they planned to say “thank you” when they got home from school Wednesday.