It might be a simulation, but the South-Western City School District's Reality Day program is designed to give freshmen a dose of reality.

Students enrolled in the district's college- and career-readiness class participated April 12 in the program held at the Aladdin Shrine Center in Grove City.

"It's an important part of our college and career readiness class, which we recommend all our freshmen take," said Amy Schakat, the district's career technical coordinator.

"Part of the focus for that class is for students to develop a plan for high school and life after high school," she said. "It's helping them not only be better prepared as students, but as people, for what life will bring."

The Reality Day program is held twice each year, once in the fall and once in spring.

More than 600 students participated in the April 12 session.

Students spent half of the time participating in the simulation and the other half hearing a presentation covering topics that included how to build a resume, what makes a good employee and how to develop job skills, Schakat said.

Reality Day is designed to give students an understanding of finances and how much things really cost, she said.

"In the simulation, students are randomly given a job, monthly salary and family situation – married or single, with or without children – and must determine a household budget within their financial situation," Schakat said.

"They have to determine how they're going to pay for their rent or mortgage, food, clothing, child care, a car payment, medical bills, insurance and savings," she said. "In each category, they are presented with a variety of options, and they have to choose which one they can afford, while making sure they have enough money to pay all their other expenses."

Students were also presented with "wild-card" scenarios to shake up their planning.

"Sometimes the wild card is good, like you get a raise at work, but sometimes it's negative, like you get a flat tire on your car or needing to buy a new washer because your old one's stopped working," Schakat said.

"It's an eye-opener for our students," she said. "The comment I hear often from students is, 'I didn't realize my parents had to spend that much money or that it cost this much to live.'"

Central Crossing High School freshman Victoria Khodjaeva thought she was in the green when she learned she was a CEO earning nearly $10,000 a month in her scenario.

"I still had to make a budget and figure out how to allocate my money," she said. "I was married with two children and I couldn't believe that I had to pay around $1,800 a month for child care. I never imagined it would cost that much."

Central Crossing student Jayda Robles was single and had no children, but as a bank teller, she found it a struggle to make ends meet with a monthly budget of $1,767.

"I may not have had any kids, but it was still hard to figure out my budget," she said. "You still have to buy food and find an affordable place to live. You definitely have to make some choices."

Khodjaeva said she has a greater appreciation of the challenges her mother has faced.

"I've learned how much things really cost, and I realize some of the choices she has had to make to take care of all her children," she said.

As a nurse, freshman Salman Mahamond was given a yearly salary of $42,784.

"There's so much you have to budget for – food and car payment and child care," he said. "I really tried to be frugal because I wanted to make sure I was able to take care of my family. The cost of child care is insane."

By taking a second job, Mahamond said, he was able to provide for his simulated family and have about $742 left over each month.

As for the big lesson he learned, "You really have to think carefully about the future," he said. "There may be some tough choices to make."