Ninth graders at Willowcreek Middle School spent a few hours trying their hand at being adults last Friday, October 14. “Reality Town” is a program where the kids are given a life scenario that could include a career, a spouse, and children. About a month ago the ninth graders could apply for a job online based on their grade point average. The higher the grade point average, the more high-paying jobs they had to choose from. Friday was pay day, and each of the freshmen was given a booklet that revealed their fictitious future, complete with a paycheck, a checkbook and a whole lot of bills to pay and choices to make. The first sentence in their booklets read, “This is your opportunity to take a glimpse into your future so that you can begin to plan now.”
Ray Rawson, one of Willowcreek’s counselors, has been helping put together the Reality Town experience for more than 12 years. Like the parent volunteers and the other counselors and staff who make Reality Town happen, Rawson gets a kick out of watching the 14 and 15 year-olds navigate adult decisions. When he volunteered at the Transportation Booth years ago, Rawson would talk kids into buying brand new trucks: “You live in Lehi! You gotta have a truck!” While most of the ninth graders went straight to the Housing Booth (as recommended in their booklets), one young man started at the Entertainment Booth. Another young lady started at the optional Pet Store and bought a horse first thing.
There were many options at the Housing Booth, everything from an apartment for $780 a month to a large home for $2500 a month. After being shown the options and weighing his choices, one young man asked, “That’s, like, half my budget, right?”
The biggest group of future adults stood in line for housing and painstakingly filled out their first, and probably biggest, check of the day. Once they had housing, the kids could pay property taxes and utilities, get insurance (health and dental), child care, pay for groceries, transportation and vehicle insurance, communications (cell phones and internet), donations, home improvement, clothing, and entertainment. At the Child Care Booth, the ninth graders rolled the dice to see how old their children were. If the person worked and their spouse worked, they had to pay for daycare. The monthly cost of child care and cell phones/internet came as a shock to many of the young people. One boy exclaimed, “It couldn’t possibly cost that much for internet!” Alas, the prices for everything in Reality Town were very comparable to actual prices.
A day in Reality Town tends to be memorable for the ninth graders and their parents. Becoming an adult is pretty inevitable, so this glimpse into the future is great rehearsal for the real thing.