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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Butler eighth-graders learn to make ends meet at Reality Town

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● By Julie Slama

Butler eighth-graders stand in line to purchase necessities at Reality Town, a real-world setting designed to teach students how to balance careers and family all on a set budget. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

It was a harsh lesson for Butler eighth-grader Bridger Harward to learn. He was charged $200 for reckless driving, $300 for resisting arrest, $100 for disorderly conduct and had to serve a jail sentence.

Of course, this was all in the mock world of Reality Town, which aims to teach students how to balance careers and family on a set budget.  

“I was just trying to make it to housing because there wasn’t much of a line,” he said, adding that with his assigned career of an advertising manager, he figured he could afford buying a condo before being hit with fines. 

Bridger’s excuse of “I didn’t know” that he shouldn’t run or there was a jail in Reality Town didn’t fly with Cottonwood Heights police officer Jeff Potter, who “arrested” him.

“In reality, there’s going to be police and consequences for not following the law as adults,” he said. “If this is Reality Town, then they need to learn the reality of it. They can’t run — we want to keep everyone safe — or be disorderly — as we want to have this be fun for everyone. He didn’t stop and listen so that went on his record as well.”

Still, Bridger said he was enjoying Reality Town.

“It’s kind of fun figuring out what I can do with my salary,” he said.

School counselor Tatiana Grant said students’ careers were based on their seventh-grade cumulative GPA and the salary ranged from $1,500 to $5,000 per month. But even before entering the gym with tables labeled from property tax to donations, students prepared for the mock town event.

“In English classes, they learned how to write a resume,” she said. “In math classes, they learned to write and balance checks. They had a lesson on what to expect and how to prepare — and their reality. They can’t buy a certain car if their family can’t all fit. If they have a low income, they should bring in coupons for groceries to have a price break. They need to face reality and this is a good lesson for them.”

Deseret First Credit Union Director of Project Management Steve Anderson, who volunteered to staff the bank table, said that some students wanted to get money out of their accounts when they didn’t have money.

“The students weren’t saving as much and didn’t realize they didn’t have money to pay for a lot of expenses,” he said. “Many had to apply for a second job for supplemental income. It’s a lesson in the value of money.”

Eighth-grader and mock “medical scientist” Jamicen Boyd was learning to save money.

“I got the cheapest house and am trying to stay under the high end of economical costs,” Jamicen said.

Eileen Kasteler, Work-Based Learning facilitator, said that with each activity, students have to make real-life choices based upon their income.

“They’re learning how to appreciate the difficulties their parents are facing and how to make ends meet based on costs, needs and desires in this simulation,” she said.

Tonya Pruhs was one of about 50 volunteers who helped students with their payments. She had her Pomeranian-mix puppy, Hazel, there, which made many students consider a dog — at a cost of $25 to $45.

But Pruhs advised students to pay bills before purchasing pets.

“I tell most to get groceries and pay their utilities first,” she said. “Some of them didn’t realize they need to pay those when they live in apartments. Then, they can get pets, but they need to know they need to pay immunizations, grooming and have places for large dogs. Many end up paying $2 for a fish or $5 for a bird instead.”

 Through Reality Town, eighth-grader Wesley Groff learned the value of the lesson. Wesley, who had a mock career working in a casino-gaming world, bought the basic telephone plan for $33.

“I’m trying to save money and still get to every table,” he said.  “I’ll need money to live on and have in case of emergencies.”