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Students face life lessons in Reality Town PDF Print E-mail

The worry of bills, mortgages, groceries, insurance ...

It all begins Wednesday for Lincoln County's ninth-graders.

Every freshman in the county will rotate through three days of Reality Town, a life-skills workshop meant to show students the very real correlation between the grades they amass in high school and the earnings they can expect in the professional world beyond. The event is being sponsored by the Junior Auxiliary with help from Mississippi Scholars, and is being held at the Lincoln County Multi-Purpose Complex.

"The more we can do to give kids real life skills, the better we can be," said Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett. "We want our kids to graduate as informed consumers and informed citizens. The state of the economy has pointed out that most Americans need a little lesson in economics, so this is a good way to start."

The way the event works is simple: the approximately 500 freshmen attending will be given a fixed amount of virtual money based on the grade point averages earned during the first semester.

With that money they will visit eight local vendors who will "sell" them everything from automobiles, electricity and insurance, and the students will have to decide how much - and what quality - goods and policies to buy to make their money stretch. Unforeseen emergencies like vehicle repair and medical bills will be thrown into the mix as well.

In the end, students who have applied themselves toward making good grades may buy a convertible and ride off to a vacation at the beach, while students who have lollygagged might have to shut off their cable TV and hope their beater of an automobile will make it to work without breaking down.

According to the JA's numbers, the average earnings for a 25-year-old single adult in Mississippi who earned As and Bs is around $25,000 per year. Students with a C average only make around $17,000 annually, and those who dropped out of high school can expect an inadequate $12,000 per year.

The experience is not something one usually learns in Algebra.

"It gives them that aspect of having a little money in their pocket and then the reality of trying to pay bills and see what they have left over at the end of the month. Most of them have never had that experience," said Brookhaven High School Principal Dr. Jay Smith.

Smith said more real-life education akin to Reality Town should be taught in public schools. Such classes exist - like BHS' personal finance class - but the courses are elective and not every student takes them. Plenty of students can solve variable equations, but how many can balance a checkbook?

At BHS, preparation for Reality Town is already under way. Smith said math teachers have been preparing students for the basic but necessary math skills needed to keep track of a bank account, while other classes have distributed surveys to gauge the students' expectations heading into the event.

"Kids always have these big aspirations. Now, we've got to match some finances to those aspirations, and the only way to do that is to have the education and the will and drive to go out and make that happen for yourself," he said.

Tonya Stewart, JA's chairman for Reality Town, said event organizers are hoping an impact will be made on freshmen's lives. Those with bad grades still have three years to pull themselves up and earn higher marks - and more money in the future.

"Hopefully, this will become an annual event," she said.