“The purpose of the reality store is to give ninth graders a chance to see a connection between their career goals, their personal aspirations and how school plays an important part in that,” Cass High School’s Linda Dieterman, who works in the business education department, said. “They’re picking a particular field of study, how much money they’ll make in that field of study and is that a surprise for their aspirations for how they want to live because it puts them through life’s plan.
“... After this is all said and done, sometimes they find out what they’ve chosen is not what they want at all.”
Students select three careers by creating an account with GAcollege411 and taking a test to determine their interests. When at the Reality Store, students “flash forward” to being 25 years old, out of college, and entering the workforce, visiting tables operated by volunteers skilled in various areas dealing with life expenses.
“We have CEOs, we have presidents of banks, we have owners of small businesses, financial owners ..., people who deal with housing, automotive market, nonprofits, colleges [and more],” Dieterman said. “We couldn’t reach the height of success we have without the help of our community members and they come willingly.”
After paying for food, rent, furniture, clothing for children and funding an unexpected life event, sometimes there’s little to nothing leftover. This scenario is addressed by the Out of Money table.
“If they run out of money and their appetite was a little higher than what they’re actually making, they have to go to the Out of Money table and find out that if they want to live that way, they’re going to have to find another job,” Dieterman said.
The Reality Store is in its third year and Brenda Cooper, branch manager for Century Bank and Reality Store volunteer and organizer, said a goal of the event is to provide up-to-date financial information to students.
“The original idea came from GACHE, which is the Georgia Appalachian Center for Higher Education, and we took their model and we’re trying to improve on it,” Cooper said. “... I also looked at my checkbook and said ‘OK, this is what I have to pay every month,’ so we tried to make it as realistic as possible.”
Orchestrating such an event took plenty of planning and research, Cooper said.
“For student loans, one of our teachers here researched student loans and if you want [a particular] type of job, this is what kind of degree you have to have,” Cooper said. “We tried to do research and speak with doctors about malpractice insurance, because if you’re going to be a physician, you’re going to have to have malpractice insurance.”
CHS student Equan Green said he wasn’t expecting money to be so tight under the career of being a married security guard with three kids.
“[It turned out] bad. I still came out broke,” Green said. “It’s hard to be a father.”
Green’s classmate Sydney Nelson fared a little better during the scenario, saying one of the careers she selected was a surgeon with an approximate $20,000 a month salary. Married and with two teenage children, Nelson said she was surprised to learn about the number of expenses one encounters during their life, for example, having to spend several hundred dollars to fix a flooded basement.
“All the stuff adds up really fast ... [but] I didn’t run out of money, thank God,” Nelson said, laughing.