Reality Store is Open for Business: The More You Learn the More You Earn
Life. You don't always know what's 'in the cards.'
Meet Sarah Fitterer. A 28-year-old high school graduate turned dental assistant. Sarah, her husband and their two children live in Newark, Ohio. Her husband is on disability and money is tight. The family lives paycheck to paycheck each month. Sarah isn’t sure if they will ever get ahead financially…
Sarah Fitterer isn’t 28-years-old. She’s actually an eighth-grade student from Newark. Turns out, her theoretical life is part of a simulation game called, Reality Store. The rules are simple: choose an adult identity, a level of education and an occupation. Monthly earnings and life/family details (i.e., married, single, kids) are predetermined. In Fitterer's case, with a roll of the dice, she aged 15 years, received her high school diploma, and started a family.
The game, and her life, just got interesting. "This experience gave me a real world view of the struggles people go through," said Fitterer. "Sometimes things happen to us that are out of our control. Knowing how to overcome life challenges is really important."
All eighth-graders in Newark city schools take part in Reality Store. Prior to playing, students complete two classroom lessons focused on financial literacy. “We learned education, occupation and earnings are closely connected,” said Fitterer. “I also learned dropping out of high school can have serious consequences.”
This game and its accompanying lessons are part of A Call to College (ACTC). The non-profit organization helps students pursue a path to higher education.
“The more you learn, the more you earn,” said ACTC Associate Programming Director Shannon Chiacchira. “This small phrase has a big meaning. It helps students understand staying in school can lead to a more comfortable, satisfying and financially secure life.”
Let the Game Begin!
Following their classroom lessons, students transform into adults, and the school gym transforms into the Reality Store. With their newly assumed identities, these “adults in action” visit various life stations. They include:
Living Large: You drive a new car, have a topnotch phone plan and shop at high-end stores.
Modest Middle: You drive a used car, talk on an older smartphone, and shop at budget friendly outlets.
Penny Pincher: You take the bus, have a disposable phone, and shop at thrift stores.
If players run out of money before finishing their simulation, they go back to school! A higher education helps them earn more income and greater purchasing power.
“During the game I bought a house. That was my downfall,” said Fitterer. “I should have rented because I ran out of money toward the end of the experience. So, I went back to school and got my Bachelor’s Degree – that helped!”
Fitterer admits, the Reality Store helped her appreciate the support her parents provide. “I’m one of four children,” she said. “Planning budgets can get really intense!”
The Tassel is Worth the Hassel
Mackenzie Wilkins is an eighth grade teacher in the Newark school district. She agrees with Fitterer - the Reality Store helps students understand the value of saving and investing money.
“After playing the game, they realize their moms and dads pay for a lot,” said Wilkins. “This experience helps them see how much comes out of their parents’ bank accounts – whether that’s childcare, groceries, or insurance. They also understand a college education can really pay off.”
Time to Reflect
At the beginning of the school year, Wilkins asks her students to write a letter, outlining their educational goals.
“Most of the letters I receive have career paths involving college aspirations. I always try to push my students to do their best and work towards those dreams.”
Wilkins knows firsthand the benefit A Call to College can provide. After graduating from her Newark High School, she received a Last Dollar Grant. This coveted scholarship helped pay for her college education.
“Today, I still keep my high school and college graduation pictures on my desk at school,” she smiled. “I also have my graduation caps and diplomas displayed. I believe these visuals help students see they too, can achieve their dreams if they work hard and try their best.”
For Wilkins and Fitterer, a visit to the Reality Store, coupled with a mission to succeed, can help anyone win in the “game of life.”