Treasure Mountain Junior High students get reality check at Reality Town | ParkRecord.com

Treasure Mountain Junior High students get reality check at Reality Town

Madison Westover, left, and Ella Engel read a Reality Town card at the home improvement booth, ultimately deciding to purchase new carpet, during the event at Treasure Mountain Junior High School last Thursday.

Students at Treasure Mountain Junior High started last Thursday excited, with budgets of thousands of dollars to spend in just one day. But after paying for a house, a car, insurance, utilities, cell phones, child care and food, they started to realize that life can be expensive.

That is what Estelle Meneses, an eighth-grader, said at last week's Reality Town, an educational program that teaches students how to manage their money. They select occupations and spend an hour and a half writing checks for necessities with the budgets and family situations assigned to them.

With her lower-than-expected salary as an agricultural scientist, Meneses was reconsidering her future life choices, especially because of the cost of child care.

"I don't want to have kids anymore," she said.

Mary Klismith, a counselor at Treasure Mountain, said that the program helps students understand what career options exist and what a lifestyle would look like with a certain career and salary. She said that it is an especially good time because the students are about to choose their elective classes in high school, which could shape what careers they choose to pursue.

"It's a good time to do it because they are just getting ready for that next leap," she said. "It makes it more relevant."

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Klismith teaches classes leading up to the event that discuss post-high school options for education and work, including what majors exist in college. She also teaches the students how to write a resume and emphasizes the skills that the students already have, such as computer literacy or being bilingual, so that they can understand how important knowledge is for future jobs.

Next year, Reality Town program leaders hope to expand the classes to teach more about how to set up a bank account, use checks and budget money, said Catherine Cimos, branch president at Grand Valley Bank. The bank helps sponsor the event and provides checkbooks for each of the students.

Ella Grover, an eighth-grade student, was a psychologist for the event. She said that she was surprised when she saw her salary, because she thought that it was going to be higher. She was also shocked to see the price tags on phones and cars.

"I did not think they would be that expensive," she said. "But, I'm surviving."

Zander Levy was a camera operator and said that his paycheck was small too. He said that he was broke but still had to pay for insurance, entertainment and clothing.

But he said that it was a fun experience to learn about the actual cost of items and services and how to choose wisely.

Cimos said that teaching youth how to prioritize their purchases will set them up for financial success in the future.

Kelli DeMarco, a co-chair for Reality Town and member of the school's parent-teacher-student organization, was among the dozens of volunteers who helped put on the event. She likes that the program helps youth understand what their parents pay for so they can have a good life.

"It's interesting to see what kids know and what they don't," she said. "As an adult, you have to pay for a lot more stuff and budget that out, so it's fun to see how they would actually do it."