Principal Cliff Eason said Reality Check is a good example of real life experiences educators are always looking to insert into the curriculum.
“Kids really get to see what it’s like to have a budget and know how their parent’s money is being spent on a daily basis,” he said.
JA of the Ocoee Region Executive Director Sandy Moore explained the mission of the organization is to teach local youths the key concepts of workplace readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
That success is a choice is a lesson sophomore Joe Morgan learned in the eighth grade at Cleveland Middle School when he first experienced life in Realville, the imaginary city where students are given assumed identities. The things he learned then are lessons he still remembered when he returned to the fictitious town two years later.
“It was harder back then, but now that I’m 16, I can manage my money better,” he said. “It’s a little bit easier but still you have to go through the real life obstacles.”
Mycha Worley, 17, is a junior who was assigned a career as an engineering technician with an annual salary of $30,675. At one point during the activity, she was a little upset when she nearly went bankrupt.
“I had to take some things back so I can do what I have to do to get the things my children need to live,” she said. “I was upset about the cost of day care because it was very, very expensive. It is the most expensive thing I have purchased so far.”
However, she was able to get a refund for day care after she convinced the JA volunteer that her mother, a retired nurse, was going to care for the children for free.
Worley said if Reality Check is really what life is like then, “this is pretty crazy. Stuff is very expensive, especially if you don’t make that much, so sometimes you have to do what you have to do in life and get an extra job if you have kids so you can take care of them — especially if you are single like I am.”
JA has educated local youths to choose success since it was formed 45 years ago as an outreach program of Cleveland Associated Industries. Programs have evolved over the years from a manufacturing-based program to knowledge-based education in grades from kindergarten through all 12 grades in Bradley County. It has expanded it reach to Polk, Monroe, McMinn and Meigs counties.
Moore said the first thing every boy in the eighth grade does is buy a Hummer, Cadillac Escalade or Ford F-150. Next, they buy the most expensive house “and suddenly, they are broke. They have no money for anything else and can’t take care of their families.”
Morgan’s profile in the eighth grade was that of a college graduate with three kids. This time around, he was assigned a two-year technical degree. The main difference is the college graduate makes more money.
“It’s hard. It’s kind of tough,” he said. “You can’t just go out and throw money here and throw money there. It’s a lot easier with a college degree. You don’t have to scrounge for change. With a technical degree you really have to think on what you need and what you want.”
Morgan said his real life intentions are to attend Oregon University, but if that option is unavailable, he will attend the University of Tennessee and pursue a degree either in psychology or law.
Manufacturers Chemical is the Teen Learning Center’s BEST Partner, which is a program of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. The Cleveland company is a division of Synalloy Corp. whose chief executive officer is Ron Braam. He and insurance agent Jack Robbins were both on the JA board of directors about 10 years ago when Moore presented the program to them.
“We thought it was a good idea and we met the guy from Knoxville who created this program. The cost was pretty modest, so we decided to split it,” he said. “The first time was pretty chaotic but everyone was enthusiastic.”
He said the volunteers saw the connection between the program and real life and as a non-threatening way for the kids to learn about overspending.
Braam’s job at Teen Learning Center on Wednesday was to sell new and used cars at Realville Automotive. Bus passes for the Realville public transit system are also available, but riding the bus is always a last choice.
When students approached his booth wanting to buy a new car, the real life chief executive officer asked them if they knew what a new car was.
“As soon as you drive it off the lot it becomes a used car,” he said. “Everybody’s driving a used car. Today, about 80 percent of my students are buying a used Nissan Altima.”
Worley is one who bought a used Altima. In real life, the young lady hopes to graduate from high school this year. She already has her application to Cleveland State Community College where she intends to take the required courses she needs to become a registered nurse.
“The least I want is a bachelor’s degree. I am going to try to get a masters,” she said. “This is supposed to be my last year in high school. I’m supposed to be in the 12th grade this year but my credits kind of got off, so hopefully I’ll be able to graduate this year.”
Worley said her credits got messed up because she made some bad choices.
“Most people don’t realize before they get out of school that what you do determines what happens in your future,” she said. “I realized that I only had nine credits and I needed 28 to graduate and I’ve got to quit acting dumb. I’ve got to stop getting in trouble and I’ve got to do my work.”