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W.Va. middle schoolers learn about paying bills

By MICHAEL NEARY, The JournalMay 27, 2019

GERRARDSTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — As eighth-graders crisscrossed through the gymnasium at Mountain Ridge Middle School, they encountered some monthly prices — such as groceries — that shocked them. They were participating in the “Get a Life!” program, developed by the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office, in a series of sessions led by Elizabeth Vannoy, family and consumer science teacher at the middle school.

The program, as Vannoy described it, created fictional scenarios to acquaint students with the expenses they’ll face a few years down the road, and also to illustrate the value of a strong career.

On May 17, the students’ first task was to purchase necessities by drawing from wages they might earn immediately after graduating from high school, with no additional education.

“They start off with a job that’s hourly pay, right out of high school,” Vannoy said. “It’s not very sustainable.”

For some students, a job right out of high school paid $1,606 per month. When students had to pay for a car, a place to live, utilities, insurance and other necessities on those early wages, they often found themselves in debt, Vannoy said.

That led to the next step of the simulation.

“We give them an opportunity to further their career and get an education (after high school),” Vannoy said.

She stressed the variety of forms that postsecondary education might take, including bachelor’s degrees, associates degrees and various kinds of certificates.

“We’re just trying to show them the difference between a job and a career,” Vannoy said. “When you’re in high school it’s OK to have a job, but after that it’s better to work more toward a career.”

Recent visits to James Rumsey Technical Institute and Blue Ridge Community and Technical College were propelled by the same goal, Vannoy explained.

Vannoy said volunteers from local financial institutions and from the Parent Teacher Student Association helped to mind the stations students visited in the gymnasium, as did current teachers and students’ relatives.

Several eighth-graders — such as Nickolas Gladden and Dennis Funkhouser — expressed surprise at the cost of groceries over a month’s time. Andrew Jones said he’d concluded that “high school diplomas don’t work out so well” — at least in themselves.

Eighth-grader Morgan Burch said the insurance costs surprised her.

“A lot of it is expensive,” she said, as she ticked off car, home, health, dental and vision insurance. Burch also noted that she’d incurred a surprise $250 expense for roof repairs.

That news was delivered by the Grim Reaper. In a dramatic phase of the program’s simulation, the character of the Grim Reaper wandered through the gymnasium politely dispensing unexpected expenses. Lee-Dorah Wokpara, seventh-grade math teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School, played that role.

Wokpara carried a stack of notes that announced these expenses, with items, she explained, such as an oil change, damage from a fallen tree branch, or a new family cat.

“They’re not all bad, but they’re all unexpected,” Wokpara said. She added that the students “are getting life” in those slips of paper, disrupting at least temporarily what they thought might be the “perfect budget.”

Tammi Childs, financial service representative for Bayer Heritage Federal Credit Union, was one of the volunteers minding the station where students purchased groceries.

“They’re quite shocked” at the price of groceries over time, she said.

With much experience working with people on real-life expenses, Childs reflected on some of the toughest financial challenges people face when they’re managing a budget. She mentioned the high price of vehicles, student debt, and various other kinds of debt that she described as “unsecured.” Unsecured debts, she explained, include student loans, credit card debt, or other debts that don’t have any collateral to back them up.

“People are charging to get what they want instead of trying to buy what they need with cash,” she said.

The May 17 exercise included practical lessons such as that, as well as some exploratory ones.

Vannoy said an important goal of the program was to help students “open their eyes and see what’s out there” — learning, in effect, to save and to dream at the same time.

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Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/

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