SANDY — On April 3, middle school students at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School participated in a two-hour simulation of Reality Town, an educational business program that was developed to teach students about budgeting, debt, fiscal responsibility and the importance of education.
Reality Town was created by Jane Parker, a middle school business teacher. Since 1997, over 100,000 students have participated in the R.E.A.L. curriculum.
This is the third year that Blessed Sacrament middle school students have participated in the Reality Town simulation. The preparation work took several weeks to complete. The Reality Town program is under the direction of Jennifer Vanderbeek, middle school teacher. The four pre-simulation activities were 1) investigating career choices, work environment, salary, and educational requirements, 2) composing a personal résumé, 3) completing and submitting a job application for their career of choice, 4) learning to write checks and to keep and balance a check register, and 5) designing and constructing signs for the booths.
The program includes workbooks with different real-life scenarios for students to choose from. Among the choices are having a spouse go to school and work part-time, having a spouse stay home rather than incur day-care expenses, and how to transfer money between savings and checking accounts.
The culminating experience was the Reality Town simulation that took place in the gym. Students visited over 25 different businesses, including housing, utilities, personal care, grocery store and home improvement. They began by recording their paycheck in the check register, and examined their personalized pay stub in relation to tax withholdings, chosen career, and the family scenario that was assigned to them.
Students then had to visit each of the businesses, which were manned by parent volunteers, and made financial decisions based on their monthly salary. With each choice a check was written and recorded. Some students struggled to make ends meet and had to visit the financial counseling booth, where they could apply for a second and sometimes third job.
The Blessed Sacrament Reality Town even included a park area where Unified Police Officer Jeff West wrote "tickets" for loitering and littering.
"The benefit of Reality Town was that the students were able to experience firsthand how education, career choices, and life choices affect their daily lives," Vanderbeek said.
Students will spend the next couple of weeks in post-simulation activities that will include a lifestyle analysis, budget examination and lifestyle decisions. They will perform a simple debt vs. savings analysis of their budget and learn what can be done differently in the future.
After the personal analysis will be a class discussion about the students’ learning experiences.
"Reality Town is a wonderful learning experience for the students in a fun and supportive environment," said Kristi Oritt, middle school language arts teacher.