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Eighth-graders get Reality Check at HMS

Makenzi Jorgensen participated in the Reality Check program March 8 at Hastings Middle School. (Star Gazette photo by Michelle Wirth)

Eighth-graders at Hastings Middle School had the opportunity to compare their career choice with their desired lifestyle March 8 with the annual Reality Check event.

Students were asked to visit a number of booths that were set up throughout the auditorium. The booths consisted of entertainment, charity, phone plans, health and grooming, medical and dental insurance, housing, car, groceries, and furniture. At each booth, students had to make a choice based on the options they were presented with. For example, at the housing booth, students had to decide what kind of apartment or home they would live in and calculate that cost into their monthly paycheck.

Mark Zuzek, principal at HMS, explained the Reality Check event to the students that the booths symbolize the cost of living. He said that the day was a way for students to compare the salary of a chosen career with that of their desired lifestyle.

Cheryl Fitzgerald-McNelis, a HMS teacher who helped coordinate Reality Check, said that it is never too early to teach kids about life and the expenses they will have as they get older.

"It's just a really good way for kids to see the struggles that us adults and their parents go through each month to make ends meet," Fitzgerald-McNelis said.

As a teacher, one of her goals is to have students realize the tough choices they will have to make in the future, she said. Fitzgerald-McNelis said that some kids end up appreciating what their parents do for them more after Reality Check is completed.

To make things a little more realistic going into Reality Check, math teacher Stephanie Tok makes things interesting. She said that she talks to her students about choices and future plans that may result in finishing college, starting a job, getting married, and having kids but that isn't always the reality. For that reason, she randomly selects a student who will have a child through Reality Check.

"Now, as they go through Reality Check, they need to plan for their unexpected child," Tok said.

The student who was selected to go through Reality Check with an unexpected child was Simon Hedin. Hedin said that he was very nervous that his name would be drawn to have a child and when his name actually did get drawn, he hoped that he would all of a sudden be able to have a spouse to help him support the child.

While he was surprised by the expenses that comes with a child, Hedin said that he thinks he did surprisingly well.

"I came in as a single father with not a gigantic paycheck and I managed to make it out with a positive checking balance," Hedin said.

One thing that he did learn was that it is always a good idea to leave some extra money in your account as a safety net, Hedin said.

Makenzi Jorgensen also participated in the annual Reality Check. She went into the event as a married pediatrician. In real life, she said that she is pretty frugal so it wasn't a big surprise that she had money leftover in her savings account. However, one thing was surprising to her.

"When we were figuring out how much money we were going to have per month, I did not realize how much was actually taken out of your income to go to government or education loans or monthly deductions," Jorgensen said.

In the debriefing following the student's participation in the event, Zuzek explained that students might start their life at a comfort level that is different from what they have at their parent's house. He said that a couple ideas to take away from Reality Check is to think about having a savings account in case something unexpected happens and to practice self-control.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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