Program gives students a taste of adult life:?budgets, credit cards, making ends meet

MARQUETTE – Marquette Senior High School freshmen got a little dose of reality Tuesday morning as they learned what life would be like after graduation.

They participated in the 13th annual Reality Store, which has students use their monthly salary from a self-chosen profession to pay for everyday expenses, such as housing, car payments, food and clothing.

Many of the 13 booths set up in the high school’s gymnasium were staffed by local professionals in the field who volunteer their time.

Select Realty real estate agent Stephanie Jones helped students find affordable housing, while Jon Veiht, the owner of Public Service Garage, helped them find affordable transportation, for example.

“They’re talking to Realtors, they’re talking to bankers, they’re talking to transportation people,” said Freshman Transitions teacher Lisa Jahnke.

All MSHS freshmen are required to take the Transitions course, where students research different careers, make monthly budgets and formulate 10-year-plans, all in an effort to teach them to make fiscally responsible decisions upon high school graduation.

Jahnke said the class, which culminates in the Reality Store each year, helps students at least begin to talk about things they’ll soon have to deal with as adults.

“Part of it is just having the conversation – having the conversation about what are credit cards, what are interest rates, what are things that we talk about all the time that they, really, a lot of them have no idea what we’re talking about,” Jahnke said.

Fellow Transitions teacher Holly Warchock said many of the students didn’t know the difference between credit and debit cards.

“They’ll say, oh, I’ll just put that on my debit card,” Warchock said. “They’re thinking that that’s like a credit card.”

Credit cards were added to the Reality Store for the first time this year. Each student walked into the gym with a $2,000 credit card balance they had to figure out how to pay off. Some made enough money to pay it off in full right away. Others chose the minimum payment option, which would have the balance paid in 47 months.

With its 13th installment underway, Jahnke said many students in the Reality Store have the same reaction – surprise.

“They’re surprised how much childcare is,” Jahnke said, adding that the store really teaches the teenagers the value of a dollar. “They think when they come in with $3,000 a month, they think that’s easy. Their concept of money is so huge and it whittles down so quickly.”

Jahkne said the point of the exercise is not to show the kids they can’t attain their dreams, but to offer some insight into how to attain them.

“We’re not squelching anyone’s dreams, we’re not stepping on their dreams at all – we’re asking them to be prepared,” Jahnke said. “It gives them insight early and it helps them make decisions based on facts, instead of their ideas. It gives them a little taste of reality.”

MSHS Senior Collin Fleury said the class, and the Reality Store were a wake-up call. Fleury spent his morning volunteering at the personal care booth, which has kids budget for things such as soap or make-up.

“I’ve had some comments of how expensive some things are, especially make-up, perfume, dry cleaning, and how many kids will do massages when they’re complaining they don’t have any money,” Fleury said.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.