HOISINGTON — USD 431 Superintendent Bill Lowry attended the first Great Bend Middle School Reality U program two years ago. He recognized its value and went to work with United Way of Central Kansas to bring the program to Hoisington.
Last week, the dream became reality not just for Hoisington, but for four other middle schools in the area.
Wednesday, Jan. 17, lower grades at Hoisington Middle School were dismissed for the day in order to ensure eighth graders from Larned, Ellinwood, Otis-Bison, Pawnee Heights, and Hoisington middle schools would be able to take part in Reality U uninterrupted by passing periods. Breakout sessions took place in classrooms near the gym.
More than 200 students participated, topping the number of students involved at Great Bend last fall.
Pilot brings experience to smaller schools
The Hoisington event was unique because it was the first time the Reality U program was administered to several smaller schools at once.
“This is actually a pilot program. Reality U is interested in seeing how it works,” Lowry said. “Typically, they usually just go to the bigger schools.”
Cost is the main reason. United Way of Central Kansas purchased the banners and other reusable curriculum items, but it pays an annual fee for the license to offer the program. It’s not cost effective to bring it to classes as small as 20-40 students.
“When we approached Pando Initiatives, creator of Reality U, it was the first time they’d ever been asked if a handful of schools could partner for an event,” UWCK Executive Director Gaila Demel said. “I made sure students knew this was a real privilege for a program like this to come to smaller schools.”
Demel gave credit to Lowry and the UWCK Board for bringing the pilot program to fruition.
“Lowry reached out to the superintendents of the other districts,” she said. They worked together then to make sure surveys were conducted and data inputted.
As a community partner with the UWCK, Lowry also helped find sponsors. One of the payoffs for sponsors was the chance to have their representatives man the booths for the game. This gave students a chance to identify people they know with the services they provide, Demel said. The hope is each year, the host school will rotate among the five participating schools.
Eye opening revelations
Prior to attending the event at Hoisington Middle School, students took surveys that helped to determine what their assigned careers would be and how much they would be paid.
According to Pando Initiatives, “Students imagine their life as a 26-year-old and complete an on-line lifestyle survey, including questions about their occupation, marital status, use of credit cards, and their current grade point average. This information is entered into our trademarked software program that links their answers to a unique scenario that is individualized for each student based on their survey answers. These scenarios are distributed to them the day of the event.”
Some students were “married” to other students, and some had children they had to provide for. Many had child-support payments to account for also.
Because of the marriages, Lowry said, schools weren’t broken up.
“It’s already difficult enough linking these kids up with people they know already,” he said.
Once they arrived, they formed two groups. One would take part in the game portion of the day while the other attended breakout sessions. After lunch, they switched.
Students were given a passport that listed their vital statistics, and during the game they visited booths set up in the gym. Each booth represented an important part of their financial life. They spent the next few hours shopping for insurance, transportation, entertainment, housing, day care and more. The bank offered loans, and the Q & A booth offered advice.
There is an element of chance. With the roll of the dice, students might find they’ve received a bonus and have extra money to spend. Others might learn they’ve had an accident resulting in a broken bone, and they need to visit the medical booth. If they were wise they bought health insurance in advance, but some do not, and then they are hit with the costly reality of out-of-pocket payments. They also have to buy medical insurance while they are there. Car trouble, too, is the luck of the draw. Car repair expenses get taken away from monthly income, and students have to determine how they will adjust. That may mean changing their cell phone or their cable television plan.
“Some emotions are pulled into it,” Demel said. “Students are required to go to each booth and must work their way through each of the steps. Sometimes, when they get down to the last few booths and they realize they haven’t got enough money, say, to buy a car, it’s reality. It’s kind of hard for them. They get emotional.”
Some of the kids get through all the booths and discover they have money left over. That’s when they go back to financial services and see what they can do about setting up a 401 K retirement plan, a savings plan, or refinancing debt.
Look beyond high school
Four breakout sessions included “Reality of high school,” led by Hoisington High School leadership students; “Where did all my money go?”, led by Eric Schoendaler of First Kansas Bank; “Consequences of breaking the law,” led by Brad Patzner at the Barton County Sheriff’s Office and Casey Rowland of Immediate Intervention Programs; and “Reality after high school,” led by Dale MacKinney of the Great Bend First Assembly of God church and Lindsay Bogner of the Ellinwood Hospital and Clinic.
Part of Rowland’s talk focused on some of the pitfalls of social media and the potential effects they could have on students’ futures.
She gave a rundown on how sharing “nudes” among other students can lead to many people being tagged as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Solicited or not, if a student receives a nude photo and doesn’t contact authorities, he or she can be charged. Spreading the photo to others and commenting on it through social media only makes things worse, and widens the circle of those the police can charge with a crime, she said.
Other pitfalls were also discussed, including theft, battery, and drug and alcohol abuse. Rowland described how habitual juvenile offenders find themselves in jail well into their 20s or 30s.
“All this stuff you worked so hard to earn, and all this stuff you worked so hard to do, can be gone like that,” she said, snapping her fingers. “The two things you have complete control over are yourself and your choices. You’ve got to think before you do stuff, and no matter how bad, dark and ugly things get, you can always change.”
Demel said the breakouts provided in-depth information that helped round out what they learned during the game. One important lesson they hope kids walk away with is that attendance counts.
“You have to go to school, you have to be there, and not just sit in the chair, but be there,” she said. Grades are important, and students need to consider who they can turn to for support if they are struggling, she added. “If math isn’t your strength, who can you go to for help, because math is something you’re going to have to have, no matter what you do in the future.”