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Real World 101: Kids discover making it on their own not like a television show

By By James Crawford
News Editor
When you graduate high school, you're supposed to be well-versed in reading, writing, math and social studies. But some of the first problems you encounter in the real world are often things you never studied, such as how to write a check, how a savings account is used, and how to cope with the burden of paying monthly bills.
Joan Baltes, success specialist with the Workforce Investment Act for Escambia County, along with the help of several community leaders, assembled on Friday to change that with a Real World Workshop at Escambia County High School for seniors and select juniors.
"It's an activity that came from a training session I went to with the extension agents at Auburn. I thought it was a real good workshop and we brought it here through the Smart Links 21st Century Grant," Baltes said. "It gives them a real experience of what the world is like. They are committed here. They can't skip a station and if they run out of money then they're sent to the homeless area."
The students were told to envision a scenario of being a 25-year -old, just out of college, and having moved to a new city to start a new job. They were to assume they didn't know anyone there yet and were completely on their own. The data collected from the workshop is analyzed by the United States Department of Labor and translated into labor statistics that can later be used by county extension agents to better develop programs to help students in our area.
The students began their real world workshop by selecting a career. They were then assigned a salary for that career and given a starting balance in their mock checking account. The students were then instructed to go from station to station paying their bills from that checking account using the mock checks. Payment stations were set up for housing, insurance, utilities, finances, automotive, groceries, clothing and entertainment.
The students also had to draw from a deck of chance. The card they drew could be a winning lotto ticket that they could add back to their balance or it could be a medical injury or expense that would have to be deducted from the money they had on hand. If the student ran out of money they had to report to the homeless station and turn their paper work in.
"It's helped me realize it's not going to be easy," said ECHS senior Elbony Cole. "I don't want to jump in head first. It helped me see that I won't have as much money as I do as a teen. I will have to have a budget." Fellow student Jeremy Larkin who has a job at Kmart but is now faced with unemployment, echoed her comments. "It's going to be harder. I learned that I need to get everything in order before I splurge. With Kmart closing, I really need to invest my money. I realize now it's important to have a savings account."
Tyrone Smith, County Extension Agent for Madison County was very enthused at the student participation. "I'm overwhelmed by the support of the students. We've done this all over the state and the students here are very well behaved and polite. The school district is to be commended," Smith said. "We need something tangible for these kids to see what it's like paying bills. It's a great way to raise awareness of life outside the school."
The community leaders who participated in the program also quickly saw the value of holding the workshop and the need for further education of real world topics.
"It gives the students a good life perspective of the cost of living," said Beth Ann King, branch manager of the Atmore Region's Bank. King, along with Mandy Murphy was manning the financial station, taking payment s from students and helping them balance their check book registers.
"It's really interesting to see how the priorities take place. One student ran out of money pretty quick, right after he paid his insurance and some are trying to skip tables, but they can't. Hopefully, they'll come to really appreciate their parents after this."
"The one thing that struck me was it gave them a taste of the real world," said Peggy Byrd, office manager of the Atmore Alabama Power location. "It was a great learning experience for the students who participated. Some had never written a check before and you could tell which ones it was. The kids were extremely well behaved. I'm impressed."
Once the students were done paying their bills and turning their paperwork in, they went to the gymnasium for a job career fair where they talked to representatives from both the local community colleges and officers from the military branches.
"I think the program is really wonderful," said Michele Gerlach, director of Marketing and Community Information at Jefferson Davis Community College. "The students were able to learn a lot of valuable information."
According to Tangela Purifoy, Reid State Technical College Director of Development and Follow-up, job career fairs enhance student's knowledge of the colleges in their areas. "It gives them an idea of what is out there for them. If they don't qualify to attend a four-year institution, they still have options at a two-year college in Alabama."
County Extension Agent Carol Bevins noted that some of the kids seemed to be bewildered at what the workshop showed them they will be faced with handling once they are on their own. "It's an important program that gives them an idea of what life will be like outside of high school. It's a real eye-opener. A lot of them seemed like they were overwhelmed. I was impressed with the kids who realized how serious the topics of the workshop were."