Reality store for Calloway Co., Murray Ind. students "one of the best field trips ever;" two-day experience grabbed the attention of future adult decision makers

Ledger & Times, Murray, Feb. 28, 2017

Reality Store continues to teach local youngsters about finances

It is probably appropriate that, for the second straight year, the annual Reality Store financing exercise for Murray Independent and Calloway County schools students happened at Murray’s National Guard armory.

First, in the fighting tradition of American soldiers, this was the challenge as students faced obstacle after obstacle – some of which were unknown until the moment they happened – in the quest to end this mine field. Then there was the discipline, that feature for which the military is so known, that students had to show in order to make the right decisions.

Lastly, when everything else had been exhausted, this just came down to survival and finding a way to emerge on the positive side of zero.

“At this age, they don’t realize the importance of how to handle money, as in if they were living on their own,” said Lisa Hays, the director of the Harbour Youth Services Center at Calloway County High School. “This is a good place to learn. The more you can experience that, the better off you’ll be.”

Calloway County Extension Agent for 4H and Youth Ginny Harper said the Reality Store has been in place locally since 1998, when it was discovered that the Todd County school district was using this exercise to prepare its students for facing “the real world.” So, after tweaking the Todd program, Reality Store was launched with a Murray Middle School exercise for eighth-graders.

“We saw that it went so well that we said, ‘Oh, no, we’ve got to find a way to get this started (with Calloway students) as well,’” Harper said, jumping to the early 2000s and another change. “So, after a few years with the middle schoolers, we looked at it again and said, ‘Hey! We need another experience for the high schoolers, and the 10th grade would be a good time because that’s when they’re tested.

“It’s just become a great program here and a really large collaborative effort among several organizations.”

Harper said about 500 volunteer hours were logged this year over the two days the Reality Store was offered at the armory. She said the Murray Lions Club, the Murray Woman’s Club’s Theta Department, Calloway County ASAP, the Murray-Calloway County Center for Health and Wellness, Calloway County Health Department and many others were involved with this year’s effort that also included numerous business leaders.

“It’s very important for business people to be here,” said local realtor Rich Rollins. “You’re talking about working on budgeting, home purchasing, house payments. Plus, it’s always important, I think, to give back to the community, and this is one way to do that. You never know when people are going to learn something they hadn’t known before, and this is a place that can happen.”

Calloway sophomores and eighth-graders participate in this annual exercise while Murray sends its sophomores and seventh-graders.

Murray sophomore Chase Merriss experienced the pitfalls of this exercise at the health insurance booth. There, he learned that one of his characteristics was that he was being classified a smoker (from a random selection process). Then, to determine how much insurance he would have to pay, he had to take a roll of the dice – literally – that would measure his situation on a 1-to-6 scale. He emerged with a three.

“That means I’ll have lung disease and will be on oxygen when I reach 50, which will cost a lot,” he said.

Merriss’ experience came from a required stop. Others, finding their situations rapidly deteriorating, would see if they could turn things around at the Chance booth, where a simple draw out of a hat determined a win or a loss. Many came away with added difficulties, thanks to car repairs and other matters. Others suddenly found their path to the finish line much easier, emerging with awards of as much as $4,000 to $5,000.

Then, there were the ones who were just happy to survive. This was the case at another required stop, the dreaded drug test. Everyone had to answer several pressure-packed questions. Miss only a few of them, and it meant a trip to the detention area. Success meant an easier path to the finish line.

The raised arms of Calloway eighth-grader Alexis Collie told all.

“I passed!” Collie said, after having experienced a stress-filled several minutes during the test. “It stresses you so much because you want to get it right. I can tell you this: I’m not going to do drugs!”

The drug test was added a few years ago, but it has been tweaked. Before, it was handled the same way Chance is, through a blind draw.

“I think ‘Reality Store’ is the perfect name for this,” said Murray Middle teacher Tommy Shown, who has experienced this activity as a teacher at both Murray and Calloway. It is the same for both campuses, he said.

“Here, you deal with things everyone has at one time or another,” he said. “What if the heating and air goes out? What if your car suddenly doesn’t run? And here’s what’s really great about it … the kids are getting an idea of what their parents go through. ‘Why can’t I get this gadget or that gadget?’ This is where they get a taste of why.

“It is one of the best field trips they will ever take.”

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