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Students get a reality check
Program gives students experience balancing income with expenses
Patty Howard, right, gives budgeting advice Wednesday to Katherine Pearce, left, and Olivia Funderburk, students at Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development. The lesson was part of Reality Check, a program designed to give students hands-on experience balancing income with expenses. - photo by Tom Reed

A widowed mother of four struggles to make ends meet by working two jobs.

By the time she's made her car payment and rent, she's out of money for the month.

The good news is that this isn't her real life, it's just a "Reality Check."

Eighth-grade students from West Hall Middle School, North Hall Middle School and Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development participated Wednesday in the pilot program, Reality Check, at Lanier Charter Career Academy.

The program was designed as a way to give students hands-on experience balancing a monthly income with normal living expenses.

"This is a chance for kids to see what it is going to take as far as skills and education and hard work for them to succeed," Lee Hightower, executive director of Junior Achievement Northeast Georgia District, said.

"Hopefully, we're going to inspire some kids to dream big, work hard and make the most out of what skills and talents and abilities and education they have."

The program was a joint project presented by Hall County Schools Work-Based Learning Programs, Junior Achievement and the DECA Chapter at Lanier Charter Career Academy. The goal is to offer Reality Check to students from every school, starting with all of the middle schools next year.

Prior to the event students took an aptitude test that pointed to their career direction. From those results the students listed their top job choices.

Teachers then randomly assigned a job from their preferred list and a salary for that job.

"It's very personalized and pretty accurate to today's marketplace," said Jennifer Killingsworth, Work-Based Learning Coordinator for West Hall Middle School.

Since some things in life aren't always planned the students also randomly drew whether they had children, how many children and their marital status.

"That affects their tax status, their insurance, and whether they have to pay for child care or not," Killingsworth said.

Upon arrival at Reality Check the students were given a pay stub with their monthly income and a check register. With their money they had to visit various booths and purchase necessary items like housing, transportation, insurance and utilities.

If any money was left over, they could buy anything they wanted from the other booths, that is if the "Life's unexpected events" booths didn't drain their funds.

If they realized they were broke, they paid a visit to the "out-of-money booth." Volunteers tried to help the students come up with ways to stretch their dollars or earn more money by getting a part-time job.

Rachel Julian, eighth-grade student at Chestatee, said she was assigned the career she wanted but after trying to "live" on little more than $1,000 a month she's rethinking her goals.

"I thought it was cool because at first I wanted to be a child-care worker and that's what I got but I didn't make enough money so I had to be a baby sitter, too. So I just kind of changed my perspective on what I want to be when I grow up," Rachel said.

She said she is now thinking about a career as an elementary school teacher.

Mark Maynard, an eighth-grade student at West Hall Middle School, said his experience was a little embarrassing but eye-opening.

When he visited the transportation booth he excitedly purchased a Mustang convertible. The monthly payments were well within his budget but when he tried to get insurance on the sporty vehicle the monthly cost more than doubled. He had to visit the out-of-money booth to figure out how he was going to make ends meet. He decided to sell the Mustang and get a more practical Kia Spectra.

"I realized that it's kind of hard just being able to budget your money with everything because you can't get everything you want at one time. You have to save for it," Mark said.