Dose of Reality U




Freshmen at Garden City High School experienced a dose of reality Wednesday, learning just how much things in the real world cost and the importance that education plays in providing a good income for their future. They participated in Reality U, a financial literacy program of Communities In Schools of Mid-America, which helps students understand the financial facts of adult life.

Lisa Knoll, director of Communities in Schools of Southwest Kansas, said they have provided the program to freshmen the past four years, but this year was a little different.

"After last year's event, the freshman teachers got together at the end of that day and were like, 'We want to know how we can get more embedded in the curriculum so that it has more of an impression on the kids,' because it ties into the state's career pipeline stuff," Knoll said, adding that teachers wanted the chance to talk to the students about budgeting and other related topics.

Before entering Reality U, students received the results of a Lifestyle Survey they filled out, which outlined a likely adult scenario for their lives, complete with marital status, number of children, occupation, and net monthly income. Students then visited a variety of booths to purchase housing, transportation, communication services, child care, food, utilities, insurance, etc.

"All of the freshmen, we went around to all the mentoring classes, and they had to do an online survey, and they had to say whether they thought they were going to be single or married when they are 26, how many kids they thought they would have, whether they were going to own a house or rent a house, what kind of car they think they're going to have," Knoll said.

Students were given mock credit scores based on their respective grade point averages.

"Because in life, those two really correlate, so we talk to them about when they're either buying the house or buying the car, they have to have a minimum credit score to do either one of those and their payment is based on their credit score, so if they have a 400, they can't necessarily buy a house and, if they can, the payment's higher, same thing with the cars," she said.

At the transportation booth, Roxanne Heckel of Western Motors provided some guidance to freshman Eric Flores as he purchased a car. Based on his credit score of 675 and his income of $2,273 per month, Heckel told Flores he could afford up to $450 per month for a car payment.

At first, Flores picked a BMW but that payment was more than $700.

"What if I run out of money?" Flores asked Heckel, to which she replied, "You could get a second job."

After thinking it over, Flores opted for a lower-priced vehicle at a payment of $437 per month.

After having obtained housing, Flores realized how quickly his income was being depleted.

"And I still need groceries, clothing and insurance," he said.

That is the point of Reality U — to help kids understand the realities of adulthood.

"By the time they're done, they're as frazzled as their parents are when they have to pay bills. You know how you feel at the end of that, and it's like, 'There's no money left in the account,'" Knoll said. "A lot of times that's how the kids are. They're like, 'I can't believe my parents do this every month.'"

Knoll said that in some scenarios, kids are "married" and by the time they work their way through all the booths, some of them actually start fighting.

Freshman Maria Ramirez began at the transportation booth, but soon realized her priorities were a little out of order.

"I was looking at sports cars, but they didn't really have any that fit my budget, and I didn't want to get anything that was too expensive so I went ahead and looked at housing and all that first," Ramirez said, adding that she realized right then how important it was to plan ahead.

Shajia Donecker, educational talent search adviser, manned the housing booth. She said several students returned to downgrade to smaller, more affordable homes after running out of money.

That happened to Ramirez, but after downsizing, she still had only $87 left.

"I thought $1,800 seemed like a lot of money, but it went really fast," she said.

Flores had about $200 left when he went to purchase some clothes, which he said was his last stop.

"I'm going to open up a savings account," Flores said. "They pay you interest, so I'm going to put whatever I have left in there."

According to its website,, the Community in School's Reality U Program helps students understand the importance of wise decision-making about their financial future, as well as how their current reality impacts their future. It sends a strong message to the students that staying in school is essential for their financial success.

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