By Stephen Smoot
Over the years, a common complaint about schools across the nation came from the idea that the education system neglected key life skills. Where science, math, English, and history were learned, sometimes the basics of financial teaching fell by the wayside.
Schools across West Virginia, with the help of the West Virginia Treasurer’s Office, county chambers of commerce, and countless community volunteers, have told those in the middle grades that it’s time to “Get a Life.”
The program sets up various stations that represent typical costs of living everyday life. Students get a card to start that explains their job, their salary, the size of their family, and other important details. Beth Roberts, a financial education specialist, represented the State Treasurer’s office at the event and brought supplies. The Harrison County Chamber of Commerce recruited volunteers to work the station tables and the West Virginia University Extension service also brought helpers as well.
Dr. Geraldine Beckett, Harrison County Schools Liaison for Career and Technical Education Programs, explained that “the first round is with them making minimum wage or a little better income, so many of them go broke before buying everything they need.”
They then must go to select housing, transportation, food, utilities, and other items. They must wisely balance housing and other costs, along with their salary. Marla Ferree, marketing director for the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, described how community volunteer experts helped to guide the students.
Volunteers like “Connie Wolfe, from WesBanco Shinnston, had a different career for the day. Connie was the gas station attendant and when the students came to her, she helped them by asking what kind of car they purchased.” Having an expensive home far from the place of employment meant that the students paid more in fuel.
“This helps the student understand that in the future, if they live 30 miles from where they work, the travel time and the price of fuel will affect their budget.”
In the second round, their cards show what they would make with skills training, a job promotion, or college. They can indulge more, but also learn the value of added training or education. “They can see the difference a better income will make in their standard of living immediately,” Beckett stated.
In the first session, students have jobs such as parking lot attendant. The second round gives them much better salaries, such as for diesel mechanic, commercial plumber, physician, or interior designer.
Ferree shared that “this time at Lincoln Middle, I ran the grocery store and, while the students were getting the cost of groceries for a family of four, we had time to talk about careers.”
Just like in real life, calamity can always strike at some point. A figure called “the green reaper” stalks the floor and randomly selects a student for a random life event. Beckett stated that “the Green Reaper can bring news of a financial windfall, like an inheritance or winning the lottery.” It, however, “can bring bad news like the need to replace the transmission in their car.”
“Overall,” Beckett said, “the kids do not like the Green Reaper. When the Green Reaper walks toward a student, they will move away in fear that the card they get will cost them money.”
She then said that “every educator in Harrison County knows sometimes all it takes is a personal experience for a student, given through an opportunity like this, that can change their life.” Beckett expressed the hope that “this personal finance simulation helps to create better educated consumers and will motivate our students to get some kind of education or skills training after high school.”
Furthermore, “our goal,” Ferree explained “is to remind them that in Harrison County they can get the training and education to live here, work here, and enjoy life in a great community!”