Students get a dose of SSLqrealitySSRq
By PAT PRATT
Area high school students were given a nudge toward adulthood on Wednesday at the annual Reality Fair sponsored by Ozark Federal Credit Union.
Event organizer Davine Conover, who recently won a Desjardins Youth Financial Education Award for teaching financial literacy through the event, says it is a great way to give students a fiscal wake-up call prior to graduation.
"We were certified by the Community Development Financial Institution to help teach financial literacy in our six counties and this is one way we can reach out to the high school students so they can be prepared for adulthood," Conover said.
The event, held this year at the Black River Coliseum, placed seniors and sophomores from several nearby districts in real world situations by assigning them jobs with an income, families and bills.
Poplar Bluff High School guidance counselor Tamara Day said the event works well and also educates students on some of the difficulties of balancing a family budget.
"It's a great oppurtunity for them to learn what it's really like," she said. "They think they have these bills and an income and can try to make it work, but a lot of times they don't take into account things like childcare, credit card debit, those other things we have to think of in every day life."
About 45 businesses from around the community helped with the event. Products ranging from dream homes to muscle cars and personal hygiene items to pizza were made available for purchase.
Students were tasked with paying for shelter, either buying or renting, a concept new to many of the age 18 and under crowd. Poplar Bluff Realty sales associate Steve Johnson says the company tries to mirror the actual closing process as closely as possible.
"We are trying to give them a dose of reality," he said. "This is what they are going to be faced with in their future, making these decisions. We are trying to give them a realistic case-by-case of what it is going to cost them."
Students were then required to obtain transportation, Jennifer Fears of Larry Hills Dodge says it's all about teaching students how to budget and plan for the future.
"And how to buy a car," she said. "And how not just to budget the car and monthly payment, but insurance and gas and everything associated with it. We are going over everything they will experience in the car buying process, on a more simplified level."
Students also had to buy furniture for their home, groceries, necessities, child care and most importantly in the interim for the high school students, how to pay for college.
Three Rivers College Student Loan Specialist Karen Beers says she was there to help students understand the importance of paying back educational loans.
"What I am teaching the students today is the importance of making that loan payment every month, just like the importance of making a house payment, insurance or their electric bill. It is a bill that has to be paid every month. It is part of reality," Beers said.
Even the Missouri State Highway Patrol had a presence. Public Information Officer Clark Parrot said that poor fiscal responsibility for some people can spiral into an unending cycle of criminal activity.
"That is one of the things we have seen, people make a bad choice and get in a hole financially and turn to less positive ways to pay off said debt, whether it's stealing or selling or manufacturing drugs. Before too long we see a downward spiral in somebody's life and it goes back to making right choices from a financial standpoint," he said.
Just like real life, not all expenses were as cut and dry. Jeff Shawan played the part of "fate," dealing out traffic tickets, unplanned medical expenses and other unlucky blows.
"I just walk up and abruptly bless their life, or, maybe challenge their life with a bill," Shawan said. "It is completely random and gives them an example. They think they can afford the car they want to buy, but have they accounted for the unexpected things that happen?"
For many students, as intended, the event was a wake up call. PBHS Senior Elizabeth Caldwell said the exercise was a little more difficult than she imagined.
"It's kind of scary when you realize all the different things you have to do and all the different things you have to keep track of and be responsible for," she said.
Senior Jocelyn Clinton said the event challenges students to choose between necessities and luxury items, similar to the real world.
"You only have so much money and you want to buy certain things that you don't need, but that you want," she said.
Senior Stephanie Hobbs said the event gave her information that had never been discussed in the school classroom.
"It's a great experience to learn things we don't necessarily learn in subjects in school - finances and taxes and things we will have to think about after graduation," she said.