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Putnam County eighth-graders take a spin at reality of life

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Checking her bank balance before purchasing items at the Reality Experience Food and Clothing booth is Cloverdale student Susan Dilcher (right). Volunteer Suzanne Liechty is about to close the sale. More than 500 eighth-grade students from Cloverdale, Greencastle, North Putnam, South Putnam and Eminence joined more than 100 adult volunteers to participate in the Reality Experience Monday at the Putnam County Fairgrounds.
More than 100 adults from the local community spent Columbus Day exploring with over 500 Putnam County eighth-graders the values of understanding how one's lifestyle impacts their financial lives for either better or worse by the time they reach 2.5 decades of age.

The annual event, The Reality Experience, was staged at the Putnam County Fairgrounds from mid-morning to mid-afternoon Monday. And the students, according to one adult observer, were "a patient and polite bunch of kids" who soaked up financial information about the costs of mortgages, wills, insurance, buying a car or truck, purchasing appliances, furniture, groceries, medical and dental care, tax liabilities and even a vacation -- if there is anything remaining in their bank account.

Many of the students brought their own personal calculators and methodically subtracted each purchase from their accounts. Many had to go to the career counseling table to extract themselves from their excessive spending and were encouraged to take a part-time job from a prepared list, which indicated the anticipated income from the job.

There was a good deal of advanced preparation for Monday's financial submersion. Prior to visiting the event, the students worked with their teachers and school counselors at school in career planning on how to maintain a checkbook register. They were asked to envision what their lifestyles would be like when they are in their mid-20s.

After they had chosen their occupation (often based on their grade-point average or GPA) from a prepared standard list, they were given an annual gross salary to "deposit" in their check register/bank account. Salaries ranged from $16,600 to $166,400.

Amy Olson of North Putnam started out in the Armed Forces at an annual salary of $26,000 but said she was "laid off" and became a fire-fighter at a specified increase of more than $200 a month. Three more North Putnam students -- all girls -- chose nursing and writing careers.

Morgan Burris envisioned herself as a pediatrician at $141,000 per year and Heaven Dunfee plans to become a doctor with a gross income of $166,400.

On the other hand. Rebekah Buchanan plans a career as a writer/author. She had her first manuscript in hand, no doubt looking for a publisher in Greencastle. The book, titled "The Last White Wolf," a work of fantasy fiction, has been eyeballed by Rebekah's homeroom teacher, Miss Knapp.

She also will turn to her grandmother in Florida for publishing strategies.

Three students had run out of money when it came time to buy food and clothing at Joe Ferguson's well-staffed table.

"Too many kids wanted a car that's just too expensive for their budgets," Ferguson opined.

But Stan Clark at the transportation table had another take on the kids' reasoning and choices. Many of the boys looked at the prices of new cars, then quickly told Stan they wanted a used vehicle, usually a pickup. Girls eventually also chose pickups about half the time, according to Clark.

One eighth-grade boy wanted to buy a moped for his family. Why?

"Because it gets 100 miles per gallon," he said.

To add a bit of uncertainty to the students' day of shopping, students had to take their turn on the Wheel of Chance. One boy spun the wheel and got a fine for not wearing his seat belt. Deduct $50, Do not pass Go!

Wayne Adams and Nick Porter of Cloverdale were lucky perhaps when they had to roll the dice to see how many children they would need to provide for. Both drew a zero. Few students wanted to consider adopting if they rolled zero on the offspring issue, said Nora Stark, who was delivering children at that particular table.

Several students using the Wheel of Chance wound up with a large unexpected debt to pay when, as a co-signer of a bank loan for a friend, they had to pay when the friend defaulted.

At one point attorney Matt Headley had to explain what the co-signer's obligation was and in another case he explained to a student the values of having a will.

Nora Stark's daughter, Cindy Stevens, is a long-time volunteer from Indianapolis at the Reality Event.

"It is so much fun to watch the kids. I look forward to it each year when I come down to Greencastle," Cindy said.

Several organizations cooperate to stage the event, including three service clubs, Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary, plus Kappa Delta Phi and Delta Theta Tau philanthropic sororities.

"Listening to the student comments while they participate in the Reality Experience and after completing the project, makes the work of planning and carrying out this all-day event quite worthwhile," said Jim Maxwell, event organizer and local Kiwanian.

"More than one young person has told our volunteers that the experience helped them understand why staying in school, staying off of drugs, and avoiding teen pregnancies are so important," Maxwell said. "They also learn there is more to raising and providing for a family's needs than ever imagined."

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