Get A Life: Game gives students taste of 'real world' responsibility

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Bluefield Daily Telegraph (West Virginia)
By: Kate Coil
October 7, 2010

Students at Princeton High School learned the value of a dollar and an education during the "Get A Life" program Wednesday morning, an activity designed to teach them a lesson about how things work in the real world.

The "Get A Life" program is part game, part lesson about financial responsibility and is implemented in four Mercer County high schools, according to Candy Stanley, a facilitator with Mercer County School's Career Connections.

"Basically, they learn a lot about managing their finances and how valuable an education is," Stanley said. "We do this program at four of the high schools in the county both semesters."

The "Get A Life" program was already conducted once at Princeton High School in September. Bluefield High School participated in the program in September as well. Mercer County Schools will be taking the "Get A Life" program to PikeView High School in November.

Stanley said the program is designed like a game, where students are given a card and have to use what they are given to buy everything from houses and cars to electricity and groceries.

"It's a financial education game," Stanley said. "It teaches kids how to budget. They are given a folder and it has a life card on it. There are 56 different life cards. During the first part of the game, they get a job without much post-secondary training."

With the limited cash flow from their first game, the objective is for students to purchase everything they need without going broke. Students can visit booths allowing them to purchase cars, homes, doctors and shop at the mall, but they must also use their money for energy, gas and insurance to keep their life running smoothly.

"They jot down their monthly salary and visit a table," Stanley said. "People at the table try to sell them things. They write down their monthly salary on a ledger and have to visit all of these tables, showing how much they've spent. When they go broke, they can go to the career center and get a job with more money."

In the midst of trying to balance their books, the students can get a visit from the "Green Reaper," portrayed by Princeton High business teacher Richard Poff. Dressed in a hood and with a scythe, Poff would present the students with green cards that would be random deductions from their monthly budget, such as speeding tickets, cavities and other events taking money out of the students' accounts.

Amy Methe, 15, a 10th grader at Princeton High School, said the activity was much harder than she expected.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be," she said. "I thought I could get everything I wanted and stay within my budget, but that didn't work out."

For Methe, one of the hardest decisions was deciding which car to buy. She said participating in the activity had helped her realize how hard it is to budget.

"I think it's making it a lot easier for me so I don't spend money I don't have," Methe said. "I realize how hard it is for my parents and I feel bad for them."

Logan Baker, 14, a ninth grader at Princeton High School, also learned from participating in the program.

"I've realized having a part time job and getting everything you want isn't possible," Baker said. "You have to get insurance, you have to buy a house and a car and you start at the bottom. I've learned a lot from this experience. I'm thinking about what career field I want to be in more now."

Baker said the experience made him think about how his parents do their real monthly budget.

"When you think about it, you're my age, a teenager and you get anything you want -- clothes, a cell phone -- any time you want," Baker said. "You don't realize how hard it is for your parents out there in the career world working for everything they have and all they have to do for you."

Mariah Harman, 15, a 10th grader at Princeton High School, went bankrupt trying to balance her money during the game.

"I kind of take money for granted," Harman said. "It doesn't really go a long way. I also learned I will definitely buy dental insurance next time."

Harman said participating in the program has taught her to pay attention to her own spending.

"I will definitely be watching how much I spend and how much money I take from my parents," she said.

Kellan Sarles, information specialist with Mercer County Schools, was on hand at the event as well.

"This is a real-life simulation," she said. "We call it a game, but the kids do run out of money. I had a girl who didn't understand why she had to pay so much for groceries. The costs are actually quite conservative and they don't realize it. This gives them an awareness of how far their dollar really goes."

The Mercer County School system invited various community members to participate in the event by conducting the booths. Andy Merriman, Bluefield City Manager, was on hand working as a car salesman for the students. Merriman didn't shy away from wheeling and dealing with the students in an effort to prepare them for real life.

"They need to know that they're going to be responsible, they have to be responsible for their money and that there are ravenous salespeople out there more concerned about their bottom line than helping you out," Merriman said. "They need to learn to stand up to high-pressure salesmen and make rational decisions."

Merriman hoped his efforts would help the students learn a little something about financial decision making.

"It's my hope that I helped at least one of them, because they're all going to have to buy a car some day," he said.

Like the students, Merriman enjoyed participating in the activity.

"It's been fun," he said.

Melanie Farmer with the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, worked with the students needing to purchase groceries during the activity. Students purchased groceries based on how many members were in the family described on their card.

"I think they're learning the value of an education, how they need education for a better living situation," Farmer said. "I hope they learn to get their education first, not to let it be an afterthought."

Farmer said she saw how the students began to realize the value of a dollar as well.

"They're really realizing how expensive it is to live," she said. "They're realizing how they have to pay for things like groceries. This is an excellent experience for them."

-- Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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