Dose of reality

MARQUETTE – Marquette Senior High School freshmen were busy buying health insurance and making house payments the morning of May 21 as part of the school’s annual Reality Store event.

The event lasts all morning and has the entire freshman class make a budget based on a random job and salary assigned to them, as well as a random drawing for the size of their family.

This year, about 240 students took part in the store.

MSHS teacher Lisa Jahnke, who coordinates the event, said as an educator she often hears people asking when real-life skills will be taught to kids, things like balancing a checkbook and understanding credit.

“We have so many standards that we have to meet, there isn’t always a lot of time to do those things,” Jahnke said. “So, I think this is one of those times that they can be at the dinner table talking this over, saying ‘Wow, I didn’t know childcare costs so much, I didn’t know food costs so much.’

“I think it’s a way that families can have that conversation.”

Indeed, the kids seemed surprised at the costs of a number of things – childcare, house payments, car payments, health insurance.

“It makes you kind of realize how much your parents are paying,” said MSHS freshman Ryan Morrissey.

After being assigned a job, salary and family, the students visited 14 different booths, ranging in topics from health care to realty, car dealerships to credit card debt.

Northern Michigan University student Samm Grzeskowiak, who interned at the high school this year, said the kids flocked to her entertainment booth, but were often dismayed when they found they had to go back and re-evaluate their budgets after running out of money before essential needs such as food and shelter were met.

Students visiting MSHS guidance counselor Patti Karwoski’s health care booth were also hit with a surprise, choosing a piece of paper that either gave them positive news such as a promotion at work or an expensive, unplanned for event, such as an appliance breaking down.

“A couple (students) said, ‘Now I’m in the hole, what do I do?'” Karwoski said. “It was really an eye-opener.”

That’s a phrase also used by MSHS freshman Wyatt Goodwin, who summed up the entire experience in two words – “Life’s rough.”

Many of the booths were staffed by community members who work in the fields their booth centered on, and Jahnke said the day couldn’t be as successful without them.

“Our community support is unbelievable,” Jahnke said. “I make the phone call, they see that it’s me calling it’s like, ‘Time for reality store?’ You bet. I have people asking me, ‘When are we doing it?'”

The event was also sponsored by the Marquette Education Foundation with a grant.

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