This week eighth graders at Great Bend Middle School were sent to Reality U, thanks to many local volunteers and the support of the United Way of Central Kansas. For this interactive learning exercise, the GBMS gym was transformed into a giant board game of sorts.
The players assumed the roles of their future selves at age 26, earning a living and paying bills. As they moved about the gym, they stopped at 13 different stations, such as Housing, Utilities, the Shopping Center and Chance. They made deposits and withdrawals.
To “win” at this game, the goal is to break even, and maybe have some money left over at the end of the month. In addition to the Reality U exercise in the gym, students attended breakout sessions with community volunteers, including young professionals who are now living what the middle school students had just simulated.
This was the second year for Great Bend to offer Reality U. The volunteers are enthusiastic; many have commented, “I wish I could send my high school (or college) student to this!” Let’s hope the students also got something out of it.
Middle school is an in-between time for kids. The bicycle rack outside GBMS is filled with two-wheelers of varied sizes, and the eighth graders have varied levels of maturity. A year from now they will be high school freshmen and many of them will be eligible for a learner’s permit to drive a car. But at 13 years old they are 13 years away for their 26-year-old selves — a lifetime, in other words.
Even the young professionals who spoke to the students indicated that they had to learn some things the hard way.
This week we also spoke to Matt Mazouch, who used to teach drafting at Great Bend High School but will soon teach carpentry to males 18 to 25 years old in prison at Larned. When he taught high school kids, some were ready to learn and some weren’t.
“If high school students don’t realize how important education is, then they will not be motivated until they see or feel the hardship of not making enough money, or going to work every day to a job they dislike and not having enough time and money to go back to school,” Mazouch said.
That doesn’t mean that programs like Reality U aren’t worthwhile. Some kids will get the message now, and others will learn when they are hit by Reality, for real. At least they have been given the opportunity to see what lies ahead.