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Union eighth-graders learn to make ends meet at Reality Town

Apr 09, 2018 10:35AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Union Middle School eighth-graders learn how to balance their income with needs and desires through Reality Town. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

It was a quick lesson in reality for eighth-grader Mason Enquist. He was caught speeding 20 miles per hour over the designated limit and got a $20 ticket.

“I just got here and already I’m in trouble,” said Mason, who posed as a news reporter in the mock world of Reality Town, an interactive learning experience aimed to teach students how to balance careers and family on a set budget.

Sandy City Police Officer Kaley Erickson said that just like in the real world, tickets are reality.

“As police officers, we issue citations, and here, when they rush instead of walk, that is considered speeding,” she said. “We also issue them for assault, if they push one another. They have to pay a fine or serve an alternative, such as jumping jacks. We want them to learn all of the reality, in addition to writing checks and paying household bills.”

Work-based learning facilitator Cher Burbank said the goal of Reality Town was so students appreciate and practice real life in terms of earning a salary to pay bills or budget vacations.

“Their job is determined by their grades, so there is an ‘ah-ha’ moment when they realize, the better in school they do, the better chance of getting a better job some day,” she said. “They also realize they can’t put everything on a credit card, but instead to plan and spend wisely. If they learn now to pay now and play later, they’re learning a good life skill.”

Counselor Lynn Nelson said in Reality Town, students need to determine their transportation, housing, groceries, clothing, day care and more for themselves as well as a family that was assigned to them.

“They’re learning what it may like to be 30 and have a couple children,” she said. “Some may be single parents and some may be married but supporting a spouse back in school. It’s based on real life. They may come here wanting to buy a Mustang, but realize a Honda Civic or even a family car is more realistic.”

That was what eighth-grader Christopher Rodriguez realized.

“I have to pay fees to have a car for transportation,” he said about his mock life situation. “I have to make sure that my family can fit into the car, too, but with four of us, a Honda Civic should work.”

The lesson started before the students entered the gym, which was lined with tables labeled from property tax to donations. Counselors went into classes to help students learn lessons such as how to write and balance checks and how to write resumes.

Eighth-grader Emily Haycock learned how to write checks at Reality Town.

“I’m writing checks all the time and trying to have money for everything for my family,” she said.

Volunteer Tyson Jerman said many students were looking how to earn more money with part-time jobs to pay bills.

“It’s like life and they have to understand that there are consequences with working more hours,” he said. “So it’s not only the extra hours, it’s also being away from their families. Some of these kids are hustlers and are figuring out ways they can work three jobs, but others are realizing they could improve their ways to get decent jobs.”

Eighth-grader Kylee Cook also said she was learning how to pay bills with her music production manager salary.

Volunteer Judy Turnbow said budgeting was a valuable lesson for students. 

“The students are learning the economics of it all, how to write checks and understand what their balance is,” she said. “Most of them are becoming more aware of being economical and realizing with kids, they need to budget.”

Eighth-grade English teacher Krista Edwards said her students also have a discussion about their future and how they can do things now to help determine it.

“We talk about the pros and cons on the day and how academic success can help lead them to succeed,” she said, adding that they also will have a reflective writing assignment in their journal.

Nelson said that’s when students learn to appreciate their parents or caretakers.

“It’s like being an adult, learning these skills and making difficult decisions. In the process, so many of them learn empathy for their parents,” she said.

For eighth-grader Jordyn Rosembaum, who had a career as a pediatric dentist and assigned a family, she learned a taste of reality.

“Being an adult is hard,” she said.

Education, Today

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