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Whitewater students get a taste of reality

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Kevin Hoffman
April 22, 2011
— Whitewater eighth-grader Peter McCrea sighed Thursday afternoon as he tallied the long list of expenses in his checkbook: $600 for rent, $152 toward his student loans, $319 to buy insurance.

“This is expensive,” said McCrea, handing over $180 for cable TV and a cell phone.


McCrea and the rest of the eighth-grade class at Whitewater Middle School participated Thursday in the second annual “reality fair.” Students chose occupations and determined an annual salary before parading to various booths in the school’s gymnasium, purchasing necessities such as groceries, automobiles and insurance.


McCrea, who was a personal trainer earning $35,000 annually, finished the exercise with $1. That was after making a modest $25 contribution to his savings account.


“I expected to have a little more money left over,” he said.


Never before has financial planning been more important, eighth-grade teacher Sallie Berndt said. Insurance costs are rising, and gas prices are hovering near record highs. Berndt said she’s had several discussions in her classroom about what’s going on in the state government and the condition of the economy.


Middle school students seldom give thought to career choices, college education and living on a strict budget.


“A lot of the kids have learned that maybe they do want to look at some sort of training or college because hopefully they can make more money,” Berndt said. “They realize that on $18,000 a year they can’t live the way they want to live.


“That’s kind of the realization that we want them to get, and they’re learning that.”


Some students cruised by, choosing jobs with lucrative salaries like doctors or attorneys. Others struggled, forcing them to seek help in restructuring their spending habits or finding roommates to split the cost of rent and utilities.


It’s an easy mistake to make as an eighth-grade student with few responsibilities, teachers said. Greg Greenwood, manager at Century 21 in Whitewater, volunteered at the reality fair for the second year.


Many students wanted the high-end properties with four bedrooms, but they decided otherwise after learning the costs of utilities and insurance that accompanied them.


“It’s hitting them in the face,” Greenwood said. “So they’re seeing the reality of it all. In eighth grade it’s probably a little (early), but I’d like to see them do it in high school too right before they’re let out … but it’s a great place to start.”


McCrea said he’s already received the message, especially after paying a hefty $500 a month for groceries. He plans to start putting away money from his weekend job to use after he graduates high school.


“Save money, and put it away; that’s unheard of (in eighth grade),” Greenwood joked. “Now we don’t have to foreclose on his house later on.”



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