Beckley Stratton Middle School students were given a dose of reality Wednesday as they took part in a "Get a Life" workshop, an event designed to teach students basic life skills they may not learn in the classroom.
"Get a Life," an event correlated by the West Virginia State Treasurer's Office (WVSTO), allowed for seventh and eighth grade students to not only realize the importance of taking on some sort of education after high school, but also the importance of understanding how to budget, pay utilities and even buy a vehicle.
In the school's gymnasium a number of different stations were presented to the students, but before making their rounds they had to choose a career card first. For the first round they chose a red card, which presented a career with no sort of further education after high school such as a receptionist, cashier clerk or warehouse worker.
The career card each student received provided information including their annual salary, taxes owed, home descriptions, insurance dues, etc. Volunteers at each station then assisted students with paying their bills, purchasing a vehicle and buying groceries while they logged their spending on a sheet, budgeting the money they have due to their career choice.
After round one students then went around once more, but this time with a career on a green card — a career requiring some sort of education or certification after high school. While the annual salaries on the green card were much larger than those on the red card, students were able to do more with their spending.
"I think they realized continuing some sort of education or certification after high school was the best way to go," Barbara Ray, a member of the Financial Education Division of the WVSTO, said. "It's very eye opening for them when they go into the negatives with a red card, so it always encourages them to go get a green card. Something we hope they choose to do in real life."
Ray explained the purpose of the event isn't aimed towards urging students to just achieve a college education, but to also look into the idea of some sort of certification from a trade school or training program.
"We're very adamant about financial education. These students are getting ready to do their four-year high school plan, so we hope this urges them to take certain courses during their high school career," she said.
Seventh Grade student Austin Holstein worked as a boiler with his red card, then once he received his green card, he became a family physician. He said after Wednesday's event, he had a better understanding of how to balance his finances.
"On my red card I also had kids I had to take care of, and I learned it's difficult to get a good job that will support your family that's something other than such a small budget," Austin said.
Kiara Simmons, a retail cashier turned astronomer, said maintaining her finances was easier on the budget of an astronomer rather than the retail cashier, which has pushed her to move forward with her decision to attend college one day.
"With a little job, you have a smaller balance, and it makes it really hard to keep your finances together, and I don't want to go through that in real life," she said.
Kelly McLam, a transition counselor in the school system, volunteered at the grocery station during the event. Several children didn't realize how much money families have to spend on food, she said.
"Every time each one of them come to this station, they're so surprised at how much it costs to feed a family," McLam said. "I think it's all really opening up their eyes."
Although learning about finances may be difficult for some students, McLam said it's important to teach students about real life experiences.
"Open their eyes to things that aren't normally taught in the classroom," she said.
For seventh grade student Autumn Hutchens, her red card job as a restaurant cashier didn't support her or her family's finances.
"I didn't like that," she said. I'd much rather go to college and get a good job. Something that will support my finances."
Autumn claimed her favorite part of the event was having the adults show her how to manage money.
"I learned it's not good to just get paid and spend all your money, you need to be able to manage it the right way so you can pay your bills, then have money leftover."
— Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH