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Reality U
School of hard knocks becomes learning experience
Kaylee Bryant, an eighth grader at Great Bend Middle School, participates in the Realty U exercise. On Thursday, students experienced some of what its like to live on a months income based on their own choices and random events. Bryant, who plans to have a child, was given a doll to carry and budget for. - photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Students often hear their lives will be different once they enter “the real world,” so on Thursday Great Bend Middle School eighth graders got a preview of their future selves.
United Way of Central Kansas and more than 50 community volunteers helped bring the Pando Initiative’s Reality U program to the school.
The lesson was presented in a format similar to a giant board game, where the students were the game pieces that had to move around the room and follow instructions as they stopped at each location. Sometimes what followed was random – decided by the roll of the dice. But more often than not, the outcomes of the Reality U program were determined by the students’ own choices.
To prepare for Reality U, students were asked to imagine their lives as 26-year-olds and complete a survey. School Counselor Sheryl Neeland said there were questions about their occupations, marital status and how they would use credit cards. Their grade-point averages from last year were also figured in.
On Thursday, students were given a workbook, called a passport, and told their survey results. That’s where the Reality of Reality U started to sink in. They started with a month’s income, but at each stop had to add or subtract income or expenses.
Some had low credit scores or child care expenses, all things that a 26-year-old might encounter, said Daytha Rueger with the Pando Initiative.
One student who said she wanted to be a doctor was assigned a job as a nurse instead, because her grade point average was too low for medical school. If that student hopes to become a doctor in the future, she will need better grades, Neeland said.
Each passport showed the student’s career field and job, marital status, what the student receives or pays for child care, monthly income, student loan debt and credit score. Some students played the game as couples and had to make their spending choices together.
Rueger told the students they could shop for any home and car they wanted, but they had to make ends meet.
“You may have to find a roommate, or return your entertainment or cell phone,” she said.
There were a dozen places for each student to visit, but local volunteer Linda Marmie said many came to her table, Transportation, first.
Student Tristan Higgins, who had a Reality U job as a construction worker, wanted to drive a nice pickup. But after Marmie showed him the choices and what he could afford, Higgins he had to settle for a Honda Civic with 120,000 miles on it.
Housing, utilities, the supermarket and entertainment were all stops. Sometimes, the students had to visit a site more than once.
Gefferey Palacio stopped at the Medical Center where volunteer Lindsey Bogner from Ellinwood Hospital and Clinic asked if he wanted to purchase health insurance. The cost and the benefits were explained, and he bought the insurance.
A few minutes later, Palacio visited Chance and rolled the dice to determine a random event in his life. The result was a broken arm, so he returned to the Medical Center. Seeing a doctor and getting a prescription filled cost him $35, but it would have cost $150 more if he didn’t have insurance, Bogner said.
Meanwhile Higgins found his bills were piling up, even with the less expensive car. He visited the Q&A table for advice.
“I’m going to be hunting my own food,” he joked.
“I need to get a second job,” said student Ivan Gutierrez. It was either that or work an extra shift once a week.
Kaylee Bryant made an early stop at Child Care and was handed a doll to carry for the rest of the lesson. When she stopped at Chance she had to pay $50 for higher utilities.

Have fun
It wasn’t all bad. Rueger’s last bit of advice before they started the game/program was, “Have fun.”
Adults were sometimes amused by the students’ comments and reactions.
Volunteer Shellie Thill said one “married couple” with children in the game found their expenses higher than expected and asked, “What do we do if we don’t want kids?”
One student was thrilled to know she could have a pet; in fact, she thought she’s have 10. She changed her mind after learning the monthly cost was $50 per pet.
“It’s really opened their eyes,” volunteer Steve Wittig from Marmie Motors said after a day of advising students.
“It’s been a learning experience both ways,” Linda Marmie said.
At the end of the exercise, students were asked what they learned and their impressions of the exercise.
Their initial answers included “Life is hard.” and “Wives (spouses) are expensive.”
Things they plan to change now include keeping their grades up and waiting until they are older to get married.
The students learned that turning in assignments on time is one way to improve their GPA, and perhaps help their future selves earn more money, Neeland said.
Sponsors hope the student may also think more about the choices they make.
Volunteer Bill Johnson thought the program provided “a good dose of reality. I’m glad to see them do it in the eighth grade,” he said.
Julie Bugner-Smith from United Way said she and Neeland visited Andover to view a Reality U program in action before deciding it would be good for Great Bend students.
“I hope the kids will go home and talk to their parents about it,” she said.