Thrusting these young people into simulated adulthood is the purpose of Reality Town. Each student receives a card upon which they learn what their level of education is, their occupation, monthly income, whether or not they are married, are single, have children, and more. Based on the aforementioned, they have on opportunity to manage their newly acquired adult obligations responsibly.
Lindsey Miller, Lowell Scott Middle School counselor, first discovered the benefits of installing a Reality Town program in schools while working for a school district in Utah. “During the middle school years, kids are inwardly focused and Reality Town lets kids learn big life lessons in an internally focused way. They are assigned a job and a family to care for, which makes it personal and fun for the kids.”
“The end goal is learning some beginning parts of financial literacy and planting seeds for future educational and career goals,” Miller explained. “Kids learn through while money is not the most important factor to consider when choosing a job, having higher levels of education leads to jobs which make it easier and less stressful to provide for themselves and their family.”
The simulation includes dozens of booths offering students opportunities to meet their responsibilities. These booths include bank, groceries, childcare, mortgage, health insurance, car insurance, dental insurance, entertainment, trips, cars, home improvement and more. Students must fulfill their financial obligations without going into debt. Some students, based on their given situation, or how responsibly they have dealt with their money, quickly learn a visit to the bank or second job booths are necessary.
Miller shared parents and community members can aid in these lessons by asking students questions about the Reality Town experience, and share their own discoveries of education, financial awareness and career. “Students take their booklets home with them after the follow-up lesson with the intent that they will have discussions with their parents using the booklet as the conversation starter.”
At Meridian Middle School’s Reality Town earlier this month, approximately 60 parents and community volunteers staffed booths visited by students during the simulation. Many volunteers return subsequent years after seeing the positive effect this program has on students. These volunteers are the reason the program runs so well.
“Our biggest pull for volunteers for Reality Town is parents, and having them here in the building that day gives them a great perspective on how kids react to this kind of activity,” Miller explained of each middle school’s volunteer base.
Meridian Middle School’s recent volunteers commented on the program:
· “One student said to me, ‘wow kids are expensive’.”
· “I will volunteer for this event in the future.”
· “I loved that there income was based on their efforts/GPA.”
· “We were able to see students make hard choices. Many times having to pick living in trailer homes/basements, and downgrading cars or using buses.”
· “One student asked me if they could donate their kids because they cost so much.”
The significant impact of this program on students is evident in their comments on the experience:
· “I had no idea my parents did so much for me.”
· “I am going to try harder in school.”
· “This really gave me a glimpse into the future and that life isn’t a game.”
· “I am going to get a job to help my parents.”
· “I am going home tonight to give my parents a big hug and say thank you!”