Freshmen students in the South-Western City School District received a reality check last week.
The district held its annual Reality Days program at each high school. The program is sponsored by Huntington National Bank, the Westland Area Business Association and Franklin County Treasurer's Office. They and other local businesses and organizations provided volunteers for the event.
More than 1,200 ninth-graders participated in the program, which was held April 23-26 at the district's four high schools.
In the Reality Days program, students are given simulated household scenarios involving income level, marital status and children and must work within a monthly budget they must determine based on their situation, said Sherry Minton, South-Western's career technical coordinator.
"Their career and income level is based on the real grade-point average they have earned at school," she said. "Their credit rating is based on their attendance rate.
"The reason we use grade point average and attendance rate is to help drive home the message that what they're doing today at school will have an impact on the rest of their life," Minton said.
Using the simulated personal and family information, students must make budget decisions regarding housing, transportation, food, clothing, insurance, savings, entertainment, college, child care and charitable donations.
There is also a chance table, where students pick a card which can bring bad financial news -- such as a speeding ticket or unexpected medical expenses -- or good news, such as a windfall from selling family antiques.
"I think this is a real eye-opening experience for a lot of students," Minton said. "They don't realize how expensive things are."
Grove City High School held its Reality Day April 26.
At the housing table, many students were surprised to discover how their credit score could impact their ability to buy a house, said volunteer Lillian Williams-Purkey, director of communications and civic affairs with the Franklin County Treasurer's Office.
"Many of them found they had to settle for an apartment or even go through an affordable housing program," Williams-Purkey said.
Reality Days offers a realistic portrait of the cost of living, she said.
Perhaps the most eye-opening expense for the students was child care.
"We're the most shocking table for them," said volunteer Cathy Beaber of the Credit Union of Ohio. "Most of them have no idea how much child care costs. They wonder why can't they just drop off their child and why they have to pay so much money for day care."
Child care was indeed one of the most surprising Reality Day revelations for GCHS student Makenzie Romine.
"I never thought it would cost so much," she said.
Children are truly the center of a parent's life, Romine said.
"I realized that when you have kids, you have to base your expenses off of them," she said. "Food, clothing, housing, even the car you buy is influenced by how many children you have."
Cameron Fleming said his eyes were opened by participating in Reality Days. Under his scenario, he was married to an unemployed wife and had four children.
"It made me realize what you can realistically expect your expenses to be," he said.
To get that lesson this early will help him be better prepared to make good choices after he graduates, Fleming said.
Learning all the expenses involved in running a household, "makes you be more appreciative of what your parents do," said Stephanie Oberley. "It makes it easier to understand why sometimes they have to say no when you ask for something."
Classes held follow-up discussions about Reality Days and students wrote a paper on what they gained from the experience, Minton said.