Friday, February 11, 2011

Have you been to Realville?

Of course you have. It is where most of us live. Our actual address may include an actual name of a place, but we all live in Realville. Thanks to the administration and staff at Dalton High School, all Dalton High freshmen were able to spend a little time in Realville last week. The experience was paid for by the Dalton Education Foundation and was staffed by volunteers from all walks of life.
Realville is the fictitious town of the Reality Check program that enables students to get a little taste of the real world. Prior to the experience, teachers assigned the students with different real-life scenarios. The students were assigned all varieties of occupations, their educational qualifications, whether they were married or single, had children or no children, or were single parents. Given the education and occupation assigned, the students were given payroll information – both gross and net after taxes.
Armed with real world and very realistic information, the students spent the next 40 minutes visiting different stations that gave the students choices to consider like housing, transportation, insurance, groceries, or the availability of part-time jobs. For example, I might have been assigned the scenario of being a single parent with a six-month old, who dropped out of high school, was employed as a video store clerk, and brought home $1200 per month.
Armed with my life circumstances and my $1200, I would first visit the housing station only to realize that my least expensive housing option was a $500 per month one-bedroom apartment. My transportation options included everything from a $60 bus pass to a $500 per month Honda. My grocery bill for two came to $425 per month. And last but not least, childcare for my six-month old would cost me $425 per month. Even if I chose the bus for transportation, I have already allocated my $1200 in just four important and necessary expenses and need an additional $210 to break even.
A friend of mine and volunteer at one of the stations summed up the experience through the words of two different students, the first student simply said to herself after looking over her checkbook register, “this sucks” (my apologizes for the use of a crude expression). The second young man was comparing his sheet with his buddies and exclaimed – why do you make so much more money than I do?
This real-world experience gave these young and impressionable students a chance to “play” life in safe mode. They were able to understand the realities that compensation correlates with educational attainment and job choice. They were able to taste life, see life conditions in a safe and non-judgmental application, while also benefiting from the knowledge that these experiences provided.
My station was the part-time job station. A student could come to me and get a part-time job working at the grocery store or delivering pizza at night. They would look at the board of options; nonchalantly choose to deliver pizzas five nights a week for an extra $900 per month. I would then challenge them by asking – who will keep your six-month old while you deliver the pizzas? When will you spend time with your child? How can you deliver pizzas using a bus pass?
Soon after moving to Dalton, I had the pleasure of working on the Education is Essential Committee through the Chamber. The EIE committee created a similar program to Reality Check call Big Bucks. Some of you may remember the program or were volunteers in classrooms that utilized the program. Although the Big Bucks program was similar in concept, the Reality Check program is a much more interactive and informative program.
Jean Lowery, the Executive Director of the Dalton Education Foundation, told me after the experience that the Chattanooga community is using an even more comprehensive program of which Reality Check is just one component. The more comprehensive approach is a collaborative between the Chattanooga Chamber, Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga State College, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After seeing the experience firsthand, I whole-heartedly endorse our community researching what Chattanooga is doing and see if we can adopt it here.
The Greater Dalton Chamber applauds Dalton High School, the Dalton Education Foundation, and the volunteers who made a Friday very worthwhile in the lives of students. We look forward to working with our education stakeholders in implementing programs like Reality Check for the benefit of our students.

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