English 12 Career Communications teacher Cammie Smith has been working alongside colleague Allison Kier for the last several years to bring real life money management tips to Salem High School seniors with the annual Reality Check Workshop, held this year on Thursday, Jan. 24.
The workshop began at the high school many years ago, according to Smith, but “fell by the wayside.” Smith and Kier’s predecessor, Helen Hinkle, held similar workshops for her classes until a few years before she left Salem High School. Four years ago, with help from Wanda Sykes of Virginia Workforce Development, Smith and Kier reinstated the workshop.
The Reality Check Workshop connects with local volunteer businessmen and -women who know a thing or two about healthy money management.
“When Mrs. Kier and I decided to bring the Reality Check back to Salem, we wanted to make sure we involved as many local businesses as possible,” Smith said in an email. “Many of our volunteers are from Salem.”
Representatives volunteered from Wells Fargo, The Real Estate Group, First Team Auto Mall, Allstate, Anthem, Kroger, the City of Salem, Kidz Connection (The Children’s Center at Fellowship Community Church in Salem), Verizon, Lowes and Virginia Western Community College, as well as from Salem High School’s PTSA.
“The purpose of this activity, as it is so aptly titled, is to give these seniors a ‘reality check’,” Smith said. “While some of the students we work with in English 12 Career Communications will choose to go to community college and/or a four-year university after they graduate, we typically have several who plan to immediately enter the workforce upon graduation. We want our students to be prepared for what they will face, financially, when they enter the ‘real world.’ This activity is a safe but very realistic way for them to do that.”
Prior to the workshop, the participating students (about a third of the senior class, according to Smith) filled out a survey with their expectations for their lives when they’re 30 years old. They shared their hopes for a career and whether or not they think they’ll be married or have children.
From that information, Smith and Kier created fake paychecks for the students, with which they have to pay for students loans, homes, cars, insurance, taxes, groceries, childcare and more. One volunteer even dealt them “chance of life” cards–with good and bad real life scenarios they might encounter, like towing expenses after a flat tire, termite damage to their home or even winning $200 in the lottery.
“They’re all taking it very seriously,” said one parent volunteer of the participating students.
“This is a wonderful thing Salem High School does,” said Roger Rakes, a Salem area Allstate agent.
Shayne Lee, a local banker, agrees. “This is the best thing I’ve seen in the schools,” Lee said. Students start the exercise by chatting with Lee about their expenses, savings accounts and student loans; they return to him for “Reality Rehab” if they don’t use their money wisely during the exercise.
Cody Cooper, who wants to be a film director, said he knew he “would spend a lot of money–I had a kid and a wife, but I still had a good amount of money left over.”
If the seniors made it though the workshop without “going bankrupt,” they received a gold star medal. Those who didn’t learned some important lessons about where they had a misstep and where they could have spent or saved more wisely.
Senior Dio Walton, who hopes to be a software designer (and who received her gold medal), said the exercise was helpful. “It was kind of hard, but I thought about what I needed over what I wanted,” she said.