Dawson-Bryant Middle School students get dose of real world

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 2004

Reality programming is now all the rage, like it or not. But for these eighth graders, the "Real World" isn't just a television show; it's a true-life challenge they had to meet head on this week.

Dawson-Bryant Middle School sponsored a Reality Fair for its older students on Tuesday. The event offered them the opportunity to get a feel for adult-sized challenges they will face when choosing a career, paying bills and dealing with issues life sends their way.

"We're trying to get it into their mind what mom and dad go through," said Laura Murphy, an Ohio State University extension and 4-H/youth development agent. "They basically come up to me and say, 'We're out of money' and I say 'welcome to the real world.' "

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After being assigned a career, students went about the gymnasium visiting stations designated "Uncle Sam," "Bank," "Housing," "Utilities," "Groceries," "Cars," "Chance" and "S.O.S" among others. After going to all the booths, kids were quizzed on how much money they had left.

"It's tougher than I thought," said 13-year-old Mallory Schug.

Mallory started out as a waitress, but soon found that she could not survive on the salary that position provided. After a visit to the S.O.S. booth, she decided to get an additional job as a store clerk, increasing her workweek to 60 hours.

Her first go-round at the fair left Mallory nearly in tears. But she said it helped her realize how important planning for the future can be. In real life, Mallory has another career in mind.

"I want to be a dentist," she said.

Other students fared better during the fair. For 14-year-old Dane Hankedahl, life as a pharmacist was looking pretty good. After visiting every station, he ended up with $731 for the month. He said he decided to "buy" another car with the remaining cash.

Despite his success, Dane faced his share of challenges.

"I learned that it's hard to manage your money," Dane said. "We need to be responsible with our money or we'll go bankrupt."

School Guidance Counselor Jeanie Harrison said the fair seemed to open a lot of young eyes to the challenges of adulthood, especially those that their parents face.

The message seemed to sink in with students.

"We don't realize how much money things like entertainment cost," said 13-year-old Taylor Sexton. Our parents are always telling us what life is really like, but this gave us a dose of what they go through. It's a lot harder when we have to use our money to pay for everything."

Taylor made it through the fair successfully, as a sports medicine specialist.

Student's careers were based on their current grades, attendance and extracurricular activities, Harrison said. But even those with "good careers" found it difficult to make ends meet at times.

"They were coming up to the S.O.S. booth for help and saying 'What about welfare, can I go on welfare?'" Harrison said. "I told them welfare is not an option."

On Tuesday, some had difficulty paying taxes or keeping their entertainment expenses under control. For others, the chance booth could spell financial disaster in the form of a huge medical bill or provide a little extra cash with a lottery win.

But this spring, students will have even more challenges to consider after "getting married" and possibly becoming "parents" to imaginary children during the next Reality Fair, Harrison said.

For now, a visit to the housing station was enough to send 13-year-old Portia McKenzie running in the other direction. The amount she had to spend for renting a house was "scary."

"I don't want to grow up. I want to stay 13 years old forever!" Portia said.