Some Waupaca High School students got a taste of the real world during a recent visit to the Reality Store.
“Our main goal of this is for students to recognize that they want to find a job that interests them and can pay the bills,” said Jill Valdez, who is the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board’s youth outreach coodinator.
The board presented the financial education event at WHS on Wednesday, March 7, with the support of the Waupaca Rotary Club and other volunteers.
That day, part of the high school gym was transformed into the Reality Store – a place where the high school’s juniors and seniors visited various booths that were staffed by community members.
Before arriving, the students had already chosen an occupation and learned what their annual salary was. In addition, some were randomly given a a spouse and children.
The scenario for all of them, Valdez explained, was that they were 28 years old and working. If they had a spouse, that spouse had been layed off and was going back to school. As a result, daycare was still needed for their children.
“That’s a harsh reality today in many households,” she said, “and you can’t always prepare for that – how to pay the bills.”
At the Reality Store, the first stop for the students was to see “Uncle Sam.”
There, they told volunteers what their monthly salary was, and based on that figure and the number of children they had, the students learned how much would be deducted from their pay for taxes.
The students’ booklets included checkbook registers, with the volunteers explaining to them where to properly enter deposits and deductions.
There were many booths that the students had to visit, including housing, utilities, insurance, food and clothing. They also had to decide what type of vehicle to purchase.
For those who had student loans, their second stop was the bank to have that payment deducted from their balance.
Students who had children had to arrange for daycare.
Gail Springsteen, a retired WHS teacher, was among the volunteers at the daycare table.
“A lot of them thought their parents or grandparents would watch their kids,” she said, “because they were shocked at the prices.”
Valdez said the daycare prices were not what today’s actual daycare costs are, but they were close.
With the workforce development board covering seven counties, it takes the Reality Store to about 17 different schools each year.
One year, some students became so frustrated as they learned the various costs that they were in tears.
“We don’t want them to be frustrated,” Valdez said. “We always say it’s a taste of reality.”
The organizers of the event hope the students learn several things from their participation in the event.
The first lesson is to be realistic about the future.
“They may want to be an artist or a musician or a daycare teacher. We had some ‘daycare teachers’ come through, and they had to get a part-time job to pay the bills,” Valdez said. “We’re not discouraging anyone from working in daycare, but we think students also need to know that when they’re in high school and they’re looking at a salary, it looks like a lot of money, but then, when they start paying the bills, there’s not a lot of money. There has to be a happy medium between the salary and what they do.”
Secondly, “hopefully, the other thing that comes out of this is they realize how expensive children are and learn to appreciate their parents and what they’re paying for,” she said.
VWHS senior Ashley Orr was among the almost 400 WHS students who attended the event.
“I think it’s a good activity for everybody. Then, at least you can think about what you will need for daycare, gas. There will always be more expenses than you thought,” she said.
The occupation Orr had chosen was ultrasound technologist, which is a field she is considering.
For the purpose of the Reality Store, she had one child and found that with a monthly salary of about $4,500 for an ultrasound technologist, she had quite a bit of money, even with three stations left to visit that day.
For the students whose monthly salary was not as high, there were always visits to “fate,” where by a roll of the dice or a pick of a card, they could get lucky with overtime hours to help pay their bills.
However, others got computer viruses or blew a tire on their car when they stopped at “fate.”
Valdez called those the “unexpected expenses of life.”
There were check-balancing stations at the Reality Store and also an “SOS” booth, where students sat down and talked to volunteers who were posing as financial counselors.
There, they figured out why they did not have enough money to pay their bills.
Some downsized their housing or the type of vehicle they were driving. Others got a part-time job.
A police officer and nurse also roamed around the Reality Store.
Students diagnosed with strep throat were asked whether they had health insurance.
There will be a follow-up with the students.
Teresa Duda, a business education teacher at WHS, said the booklets the students filled out will be returned to them in their homerooms. The students will be expected to take them home to review them with their parents. Students who return the signed booklets back to school will be eligible for a drawing for prizes.
“I hope that the students realize,” Duda said, “that they can live within their means if they make wise financial decisions.”