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Midvale Journal

Reality hits eighth graders in life simulation

May 02, 2019 01:15PM ● By Julie Slama

Visiting each booth from the bank to housing to food to entertainment, Butler eighth graders on learn how to budget their mock salaries in a life simulation. (Photo courtesy of Eileen Kasteler/Canyons School District)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Reality hit hard for some eighth graders.

And that’s what Canyons School District’s Work-Based Learning Coordinator Eileen Kasteler wanted students at Butler, Midvale and Union middle schools to realize.

“Students are given life scenarios — they could be 30 years old, married, with a spouse who is working or they could be single, raising children, working while going back to school and trying to make ends meet,” she said. “In Reality Town, they’re learning to see where money goes, how to make good choices, how to save, how to write checks, and why they may need insurance. It’s a good hands-on learning opportunity for them to really understand and appreciate the value of a paycheck.”

Students quickly learned that they couldn’t go with the most expensive clothes or living arrangements and that childcare is expensive.

Union eighth grader Teya Snowder said that with her assigned profession and having a master’s degree, “I’m still poor.” She enrolled in the military to pick up a second income — yet at the same time, purchased a pet dog, named Bambi Bombi Bumper.

Kasteler said that was part of the simulation: having students understand where their money was going.

“I don’t think every student understands the reality of where money is needed. Right now, they may spend money on fun things, not necessities, but this gives them that look at their future,” she said.

Union eighth grader Laura Curtis quickly picked up on that.

“Right now, I have a little of my own money from being a referee and I can use it on what I want, but I’m seeing now that I need to learn how to manage my money better and learn how to divide it between savings and what I’m buying,” she said.

Her classmate Emma Cecil said she became more aware where money is spent with property tax and insurance when counselors explained the program before the simulation.

“I learned about all the taxes involved that come out of my income and what all I need to pay when I purchase a car or a home,” she said, adding that her role as a university teacher allowed her husband to stay at home to take care of her son so she didn’t have to pay for childcare.

Butler PTSA President Hilary Ripley’s daughter wasn’t as fortunate.

“Although she had earned a master’s degree, she chose a low-paying career that she thought would be more fun,” said Ripley, who has volunteered with Reality Town three years. “Now, she can’t afford to pay for childcare and has asked me to babysit for her kids. Her choices affected my choices — we both got a taste of real life.”

Hillcrest High School senior and Midvale Youth Ambassador Kosha Hansen volunteered at Midvale and Union’s Reality Towns this year.

“Their careers are based on their GPAs and that helps determine how successful they will be as adults,” she said. “It’s teaching them to work hard now and that will pay off later in life.”

Several high school students returned to their alma maters to volunteer.

“It’s cool they’re learning that life isn’t fair and you may have to figure out how to pay for something, which is more than you’ve set aside,” Hillcrest sophomore Gavyn Paul said. “Then, there’s always the unexpected fees. You may need a new windshield or a flat tire that needs fixing and so they’re learning how to deal with issues now that are unexpected.”

Canyons Board of Education member Mont Millerberg said he had students ask about purchasing a Mustang GT while working as a used-car salesman.

“I’d have them review their family situation and their income and usually, they came to understand other options were better suited for them,” he said.

Union Counselor Lynn Nelson said there were bonuses involved if parents volunteered or if students dressed up for their career to help them financially.

“Kids are learning how the real world works, how much money they need to live, how to plan for college, tech or trade school, how to budget money, how to balance a checkbook, how to try to stay up or get ahead,” she said.

Midvale eighth grader Mary Garcia looked at classes at CTEC and serving in the military.

“They’re good options for me,” she said. “My uncle fought for me and our country, but I also want to work in a burn unit as a nurse. This is learning about my options about my schooling.”

This is Midvale’s return to Reality Town after an absence of more than five years as both parents and teachers said it’s a valuable lesson, Principal Mindy Robison said.

“They have found it helps students understand their value of their grades and how those have direct correlations that may impact their future careers,” she said. “It shows there is a more realistic tie between behavior and choices and learning how they can influence their own future. It also teaches them vocabulary many of them haven’t been exposed to through an interactive way.”

It also may be an eye-opener for the organizers as Kasteler said some students reflected their current situations and wanted to know if one of the many stations set up along the gym was a food bank to either get items for their mock family or to give donations.

“It’s a good reality check for us as well,” she said.

Eighth grade resource teacher Whitney Lott said it helped them understand life.

“It’s part of their life experience, to know how things work, where to go to get what they need,” she said. “I want them to try a lot so they can get the most out of it.”

Union parent Martha Baumgarten said she saw students understand that they couldn’t afford designer clothing and opted instead for more economical clothes.

“They’re learning how life works and how much money things cost and they got to budget,” she said. 

Canyons work-based learning coordinator Cher Burbank agrees.

“I think kids realize now that parents can’t always afford everything and the value comes from working hard for what they want,” she said. “Reality Town breaks the walls of the classroom and teaches these students career exploration skills and money management. It’s a great experience for these kids to be actively engaged and prepare them for their future.”