Rita Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fair gives students dose of reality

Students at South Panola High School got a dose of reality last Friday when they had to buy groceries and pay the rent out of “paychecks” based on their grades.

The Reality Fair was attended by about 120 juniors and seniors, some of whom had never written a check before, one teacher said.

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Each participant received a checkbook into which was deposited a paycheck based on the occupation the student chose from a list distributed by career/tech ed counselor Rene’ Smith, who coordinated the fair.

“They got to choose their jobs on the basis of their grades,” Smith told me. “Students with all As got to choose from about 150 jobs.”

The lower the grades, the fewer the job choices, she said.

Based on the money in their make-believe checkbooks, students chose between renting a home or purchasing one. Costs ranged from $300 to $1,000 a month. Then they shopped for cars, insurance, clothes and groceries. They paid utilities and stopped by the “chance” table, drawing out a ticket from the fishbowl. The scenario might be “you hit a patch of ice and end up in the ditch. Pay $75 to Chance for towing.” Or the student might be pleasantly surprised: “Your income tax refund arrives. Take this card to the bank and add $150 to savings.”

At the end of the fair, each student presented his or her checkbook balance to receive a reward: a Payday candy bar for those who had money left at the end of the month, or a Zero for those who didn’t.

It was a light-hearted approach to a serious subject, a subject that many people are apparently flunking in real life.

In 2006 Mississippi ranked 14th in the nation in the rate of personal bankruptcies, with 444 filed for every 100,000 people, according to the Morgan Quitno Press, quoting information from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.  The national average for 2006 was  360 personal bankruptcies per 100,000 people.

It’s commendable that our schools have recognized the need to inject economic reality–and financial management skills–along with academic and practical coursework as they prepare young people for the world of work.

Here’s hoping the students can connect the dots from higher grades to more choices for higher-paying jobs.

And that next year the career-tech department has to distribute more Paydays than Zeros.