- Sponsorship -

A dose of reality

Middle schoolers get a taste of adult life at the Reality Store

Cedar Springs — Eighth-graders went shopping recently, and what many brought back was an eye-opening lesson in reality.

Classmates Aleea Male, Max Emmory, Dillon Smith and Henry Metiva sat at a table adding up their projected monthly expenses — based on where they will be in life around age 25.

Nearby, Johnny Fankhauser and Blake Roberts toiled away at their budget, which had been thrown off by unexpected events.

They had just finished their trip to the “Reality Store” — 16 booths set up in the gymnasium, each offering information and help budgeting for life’s financial necessities and extras. Adult volunteers, many from area businesses, helped students figure out what actual costs would be in each category.

In class, before heading to the Reality Store, students imagined their future life, based on the career they chose, their level of education, marital status, how many children they have, the area they live in, type of housing and other factors. They then went to the gym to see what “life” really had in store for them. 

Gavin Outen, left, gets ready to learn what his ‘unexpected event’ will be

Ten of the 16 booths were required stops. These included banking, housing, government/taxes, groceries/food, transportation, home and auto insurance, medical insurance, clothing, utilities and life’s unexpected events.

Those unexpected events were perhaps the biggest reality check. Students were required to draw a slip of paper from a jar that told them what their unexpected event was. Then they factored this into their budgets. 

“I got burglarized,” said Blake. 

“I got a parking ticket,” said Dillon. “I parked in a handicapped spot.”

The remaining six booths were investments/charity, child care, legal fees, pets, personal care, and entertainment/travel. Some students found they didn’t have much in their budget for travel. Others wanted pets but then weren’t so sure after they found out how much pets cost to care and feed.

Henry, who is considering a future in business, found the experience eye-opening. 

“I mean, I have enough money, but (expenses) are more than I thought it would be,” he said.

Jonathan Skelonc, right, figures out how much to allocate for food

Career, College and Life Readiness

“This is a great opportunity for our kids to make some real connections (in) career, life readiness,” said Ron Behrenwald, director of post-secondary success. The district is developing a CCLR (Career, College and Life Readiness) curriculum starting in middle school that identifies students’ interests and makes connections with future coursework.

“This activity couples that with the cost of daily kinds of needs that one would have (and) the salaries of jobs they have chosen,” Behrenwald added. “They’re getting from this some real-life experience. They are doing some financial planning and budgeting.”

In class the next day, students wrote reflections on what they had learned or experienced while “shopping” at the Reality Store. 

Blake Roberts, left, shows a budget calculation to classmate Johnny Fankhauser

“I learned that money isn’t something to be thrown around and that in order to have a nice home and nice things you need to have a good job,” one student wrote.

“Life and finances are a lot more complicated than they seem,” wrote another.

One eighth-grader had a brutally honest take on the experience: “I should learn to take care of my money and do more responsible things with my life and focus more and stop goofing around.”

I have enough money, but (expenses) are more than I thought it would be.’

— Eighth-grader Henry Metiva

When surveyed with the question, “I feel like I learned something about real life during the Reality Store activity,” 59.5% of the eighth-graders answered ‘“Yes, this was valuable,” and 38.5% responded “Somewhat, I learned some new things,” Behrenwald reported. 

“This is obviously something the students found very valuable, given these results and comments,” he said.

Jonathan Skelonc, right, gets information about housing costs

Read more from Cedar Springs:
Soaring to new heights, in a single take
A fifth-grader at heart

- Sponsorship -
Jane Lally
Jane Lally
Jane Lally is a reporter covering Sparta. Recently retired after working in state government and other areas, she found her way back to the journalism field again. She graduated from Central Michigan University and spent most of her career in writing, editing, graphic design/print production and broadcast closed captioning. She has written for The Grand Rapids Press, The Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant/Alma, MacDonald Publications in Ithaca, Leader Publications in Niles and The Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph. She strongly believes in the importance of public schools as they bring communities together and make them stronger. She is happy to be able to tell the stories of Sparta schools.


Related Articles

- Sponsorship -

Issues in Education

Making Headlines

- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You Live WGVU