Get a Life gives students a glimpse of their futures

TENNERTON — It’s not often you get a chance to re-do life at age 28, but a financial simulation from the West Virginia State Treasurer’s office shows students the income difference between earning a high school diploma or pursuing further certifications or degrees.

Pat Ramsburg, coordinator of the Get a Life Program, sponsored by the W.Va. State Treasurer’s office, said the 90-minute activity is divided into two segments.

“First, they are given a red card,” she said. “They are 10 years out of high school. They have been given a job they can get in West Virginia with a high school diploma. They have been given a family to support and then they have to visit nine different stations and buy goods and services to take care of their family.

“They have to buy a car, gas for the car and insurance for the car,” she said. “Then, they have to buy a home, insurance and utilities. They have to get groceries. They have to visit the doctor.

“They have to go to the store at the mall and buy furniture for every room in their house and a stove and a refrigerator.  After that, they can buy anything else in the catalog.”

The problem the students soon learn is that there isn’t much, if any, discretionary income on a salary without a higher education degree. Often, the students go in debt just buying the essentials on their list.

“With the first income they have, with the monthly budget, they are going to struggle,” Ramsburg said. “So, after they have been everywhere, we will sit them down and talk a little bit. Then, we will give them a green card. The green card represents some education beyond high school. It can be a welder’s certificate or it could be an astronomer (the highest salary in the game) and a new ledger sheet.”

“They will visit the stations again and they should not go in the red this time,” she said. “It should be easier this time because they are going to have more money. Most of the time, it’s twice as much money as what they had in the first game.

“Then, we talk about vocations or careers and what it is they would like to do, how long they are going to be working and that every time they get more certification they are going to get more money.

“It’s a financial activity because they are choosing and budgeting and doing math and it’s career building because they can see how a little more education is going to give them a little more money,” she said.

This is the second year Ramsburg brought the Get a Life Program to B-UMS, and if principal Renee Warner has her way, this yearly crash course in real life will continue.

Warner said, “I heard about it for the first time six or seven years ago and couldn’t figure out a way to get it here,” she said. “Lori [Hagi] approached me and said, ‘I have this Get a Life activity’ and I said, ‘I’ve been trying to do that and I didn’t have anybody to spearhead it.’

“I have wanted it for a while because our standards, except for one course which is Family and Consumer Sciences, do not address real-life budgeting and that kind of thing. What an opportunity for our kids to get to see a side-by-side comparison of a job with a high school diploma and a job with something beyond that — whether it be four, six or eight-year education, an associate’s degree or a trade license. It’s a huge difference in salary.

“I’m thrilled to have them here and we will do it as long as I am able and we have volunteers,” she said. “The Student Council from the high school helped last year and are back again this year.”

One of the lessons learned from last year’s experience was that smaller groups were needed  and so the program was divided among three days to allow all the eighth graders to go through.

“I think the smaller the group, the more learning can take place,” Warner said.

“My favorite part is hearing my teachers talk about the kids going back to class and talking about what they learned,” she said. “That way I know it is having an impact.”

Ashaunte Jefferson drew a tailor in the first game with a monthly salary of $1,790. With a spouse staying home with their 1-year-old son, Ashaunte said the make-believe family was already in debt.

She said she was surprised to learn the cost of what some things were that she had to buy.

“It was a very interesting experience,” she said. “I have been used to my parents buying everything and I feel bad now. I should be more considerate.”

In the real world, Jefferson said she is already considering a future as a tax attorney, and knows although pursuing a law degree will be expensive, the pay-off will be rewarding.

Trey Herndon drew a cutter operator’s positon with a monthly salary of $1,552.76. Trey said he was surprised by how much insurance was and also went into debt trying to buy what was needed.

After high school, Trey said he is interested in pursuing a welder’s certification which earns a lot more.

Ramsburg said the program, first written for the Gear Up Program at Fairmont State University  several years ago, is geared towards eighth graders but also fits in with high schools as well.

“The kids have a good time and they stay engaged,” she said.

To request the program, contact the WVSTO at 304-558-5000 or email [email protected]

For Upshur County, Hagi, the asset development coordinator with Mountain CAP of West Virginia, wrote a grant to purchase additional kits. The B-UMS visit is made possible by  Mountain CAP and Hagi volunteered at the program too.

All of the eighth graders were scheduled to complete the Get a Life Program this week.

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